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home : opinions : opinions June 28, 2016

5/20/2014 1:10:00 PM
The City and its critics - a reply
By Ed Protas

I applaud last week's Nugget editorial concerning the City of Sisters' leadership's continued refusal to provide digital recordings of public meetings on the City's website. Our local editor has a unique position in the community to hold city officials accountable, and should exercise that prerogative more often. There is nothing wrong with pointing out bad governance.

But the editorial came with a defense of City leadership from its "most vociferous critics," of which I am clearly one. The Nugget editor has no greater or lesser right to criticize bad governance, but his position grants him almost unlimited opportunity to do so - to criticize, condone, or to overlook. Democracy gives citizens the right to criticize public officials, and exercising that right does not justify a warrantless charge that we are only doing so "for its own sake." More trash talk; shoot the messengers. The editor needs to overlook our tactics, which he knows are valid, so that he does not mistakenly mistrust our goals.

The editorial empathizes with the City leadership because they feel "slammed" no matter what they do, and offers as an example public criticism about hiring the contract forester, and our failure to not compliment the City for the planting of 30 trees.

The claim is made that expert advice by our forester should be accepted and trusted; there is no potential conflict of interest, and statements to the contrary equates to "slamming" City leadership. The City has a long history of using the statements of experts to tell its preferred story. That is basically the way all governments operate. The year-long fight over the City's effort to significantly increase water rates was an obstacle course littered with false expert statements. I recall being warned by the City's engineer, fire officials, and staff how our dilapidated system put the town at risk; how it could burn to the ground if "necessary" improvements were not made. And then a member of the technical advisory committee, the Redmond City Engineer said "This is one of the best systems I have ever seen." Apparently he was not aware of the "experts'" talking points.

Urban foresters, many being arborists, are the ultimate tree-huggers. To them there is no such thing as a bad tree; all trees provide benefits to the earth and all life on it. Statements referring to junipers as a "square peg in a round hole" or having "lots of bad traits" do not reflect this mentality. They know that older, bigger trees provide far greater benefits than younger, smaller trees. These benefits are habitat, shade, wind reduction, temperature control, CO2 conversion to oxygen, surface water mitigation, and others. It may take 40 years or more for those 30 newly planted trees to provide the benefits of the 28 that were cut in Creekside Park - one of which was 100 years old. But those statements are certainly consistent with the message the City leadership has promoted since having to admit they did in fact cut down those trees. What's the age-old saying about not biting the hand that feeds you?

Here is the crux of what The Nugget editorial misses: The overriding issue in the community with respect to the cutting of trees is trust, more specifically, a lack of trust. While the editor believes the City leadership has learned some hard lessons, the only way citizens will believe this is by seeing a change in behavior. With regards to trees and transparency, we have seen no change. The selection of the forester, whose continued employment is at the discretion of the City manager, the forester's statements in support of past tree-cutting, the persistent attitude regarding digital recordings, and the continued name-calling and demonizing from City Hall, do not indicate much has been learned. The editor should not shield City leadership from valid criticism by engaged citizens seeking better governance.

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