Help us decide at the Enterprise whether to pursue a particular story.
Malheur County said it intends to charge the Enterprise $875 for documents showing what work has been done at public expense by a county department.
The charge, we’re told, is because what the newspaper is asking for isn’t of any use to the people of Malheur County.
We wonder if that’s a true sense among taxpayers, so we want your opinion. We are serious about professionally performing our watchdog role.
Here’s the circumstance.
Since 2013, the county has paid Gregory Smith & Company a fee of $9,000 a month to run the county Economic Development Department.
Under the county contract, Greg Smith agreed to perform 12 specific tasks, or “deliverables” as they are called in legal lingo.
Smith & Company has a separate contract that pays $6,000 a month to handle the Nyssa rail shipping center. The Enterprise has reported regularly on missteps with that project, including missed deadlines, false claims of work done and more.
The news team at the Enterprise decided to report on what Smith’s company has produced for taxpayers for the $9,000 a month. The newspaper requested public documents showing what Smith & Company accomplished in the 2020-2021 contract year that ended in June.
Under the contract, the company was required to “develop on-going goals, objectives and work plan for positive economic development change.” We asked to see that.
The company was required to “develop current flyers, brochures and materials to market and promote Malheur County.” We asked to see that material.
The company is supposed to “attend trade shows” to promote Malheur County. We wanted to know what trade shows were attended since that’s part of what Smith & Company is being paid to do.
And the company was paid to “continue to identify ways to improve and enhance website.”
There are more, but that gives you a sense. Each year, the same 12 tasks have been required, with minor changes.
READ IT YOURSELF: Malheur County contract
Based on the contract rates, Smith & Company would have been paid more than $800,000 over the years. The contract for 2021-2022 is almost identical to the contract from 2013-2014 – the same tasks, the same pay, the requirement that the tasks “shall” be done.
In its public records request, the Enterprise asked for public records showing “completion or performance” of those tasks. The request said: “The intent is clear: What demonstrated deliverables did taxpayers of Malheur County receive for the $9,000 paid each month to this company?”
Smith responded that he had such records. He said, though, wouldn’t waive the charge for providing the records as has been his practice for requests from the press.
His reason, we understand, is that the information in county records about the performance of his company wasn’t of use to the public and there was no reason to give it away free.
“It is not clear that the information you request will directly impact, affect or serve an identified interest of the general public or advance the welfare and well-being of the general public,” he wrote.
Smith may be right that taxpayers in Malheur County aren’t interested in what his Heppner-based company delivers for $108,000 a year.
That’s where you come in.
There is no shortage of news in our area. Pursuing this sort of accountability in government, watching over the use of your money, isn’t easy. It takes time. It means fighting resistance in some circumstances. And it’s complex work. We do it out of duty.
But perhaps in this instance taxpayers don’t want us to be checking on spending and performance by a Malheur County agency.
So, would you address two questions in an email to [email protected]?
Question 1: Do you want to know what county taxpayers are getting for $9,000 a month?
Question 2: If we pursue the records, should we launch a new “Dollars for Disclosure” campaign to raise the money to cover the $875 cost?
We look forward to your answers.
-Les Zaitz, editor and publisher