Business & economy, Commentary, Local government

LETTER: Rail project, not bungled, will be asset for Malheur County economy

To the Editor:

As a commissioner for Malheur County, I consider it my duty to communicate with the public. This letter is primarily in response to an editorial published July 13 in the Malheur Enterprise that lays some serious accusations against the county and me, personally. I do not try to make it a hobby of responding to editorials, but the publisher, Mr. Zaitz, brings up several points that I believe should be addressed.

First, to the citizens of Malheur County: I don’t consider TVRC a bungled project. I recognize the cost overruns, and that the project is behind schedule; I also want to be clear that I have never downplayed these things. It is possible, and necessary, to acknowledge problems with a project of this scale while also retaining the ability to deliver a worthwhile product to the county, which I believe the TVRC is.

In my entire life, I have never referred to anyone as a “rube” let alone the citizens of Malheur County. The editorial in the Enterprise took a shot at the character of the court, and my personal character. That’s fine – the job of the free press is to hold elected leaders accountable. The Enterprise referred to me as “capable” several weeks back, and more recently called me “arrogant.” Again, the Enterprise has that right.

But the actions of the court won’t be dictated by how we’re referred to by a local paper. I want to be clear that my motivation, and the motivation of the court, is not to simply get good press. The coverage from the paper over the years, in part, motivated my candidacy for county commissioner, and I appreciate its diligence and commitment to the county. But my work as a commissioner is motivated by one thing: to better the lives of citizens of Malheur County. I believe the completed rail project will do just that.

To my knowledge, no member of the MCDC Board of Directors or of the Malheur County Court has, in any way, tried to hide anything from or mislead the public. I do agree that all public documents should be open and available to the public. I have submitted all public documents that have been requested of me.

To the best of my knowledge, I have read the majority of the public records requests as well as the responses. To imply that because I did not respond to a request immediately means I haven’t read relevant documents is simply irresponsible reporting. I do recognize that some public documents have been very difficult for the paper to obtain through Economic Development and MCDC. I have repeatedly asked that those documents be gathered and submitted to the paper as soon as possible.

The question from the paper on my position regarding MCDC’s request of $15,000 a month to fund the project manager position was premature. At times, the court is dealing with matters of ongoing negotiation and my public disclosure prior to a public meeting could have impeded negotiations and the relationship with MCDC. Since then the court has made it public and I would like to make it clear that the decision was made not to fund the project manager at $15,000 a month.

Those of us working on this project are committed citizens of Malheur County. The majority of those working on the project have full time jobs with no compensation for their time or efforts. The truth is, we don’t have a public relations director on staff. Our job is to work for you, the people of Malheur County; and, it’s true that we could stand to be clearer in our communication. Our dedication is to finish this project to benefit the county. The implication of a “good old boys” group out for themselves, looking down on the public, is completely false.

I also want to make it clear that the funds for the position on the MCDC Project Manager and a significant amount of the funds received for this project have come through Economic Development Lottery Funds and do not come from the County General Budget (your tax dollars).

Malheur County is very fortunate to receive $26 million to fund a project that can economically benefit the county. This money had very strict guidelines and had to be used for a transportation project, which the reload facility is.

With the additional acreage adjacent to the reload facility which we refer to as the industrial park, it is the desire and goal of the county court to afford additional businesses the opportunity to utilize the rail in an effort to continue to stimulate the economy of Malheur County.       

As suggested by the Enterprise’s editorial, you, citizens of the county, should reach out to me and the other members of the court. We welcome your input and appreciate and consider the way you feel about the project. In the end, we are accountable to you and want to make your home a more livable, prosperous community.

– Ron Jacobs, Malheur County commissioner