When I began my appointment as Interim County Commissioner, I had little understanding of what the day in the life of a commissioner would look like. I had only a few interactions with commissioners over the year and I did not know many department directors. It was a steep learning curve to acquaint myself with all departments and understand their finances and operations.
The department directors answered all my questions without reservation. They are highly skilled professionals and are very active in discussions and decisions managing county business under the direction of experienced and knowledgeable commissioners. They work together to complete projects, resolve problems, manage personnel and explore new possibilities.
The elected Commissioners, Chris Boice, Tim Freeman and Tom Kress, know they answer to the public and are expected to make difficult decisions weighing all the variables. Their actions will be scrutinized and challenged for any missteps. They make themselves readily available out in the public for questions and explanations. They have nothing to hide. They understand that criticism is part of the job, but tire of combating the lies and misrepresentations about them.
A county government must operate within a balanced budget. On the revenue side, property taxes fund public safety only. Some departments receive state and federal funds, and the Parks Department is an example of successful grant writing. But the general fund needs timber receipts.
Logging and our wood products manufacturing is our heritage and our economic engine. The importance of sustainable timber harvest and the positive impact of those receipts to our county budget cannot be overstated. We are on a grim trajectory without that revenue and the pressure for cuts in services to citizens, or the need for increased usage fees is painful, unpopular and causes conflict.
There is complete agreement to diversify our economy and make serious efforts to expand opportunity for investment and grow business. New business may add to property taxes, but will not be sufficient to replace the necessary timber receipt dollars to the general fund. There is nothing in the foreseeable future in economic development that will replace that revenue. Marijuana, wine and tourists are not substitutes for timber receipts.
Serving as a commissioner, albeit briefly, will stay with me as one of the most interesting experiences of my life. And working in a public role, I was reminded how easy it is to be critical and how much more difficult it is to be creative; how easy for some to rant about an issue without knowing the facts and no responsibility to solve it; how often some rush to judgement and will never accept the truth if it is the opposite of what they want to believe; how blame is an excuse for not doing the work yourself but expecting others to do it perfectly; and how we would all benefit more by giving grace to those people willing to stand up and take on serious challenges.
I have heard some of the most absurd accusations hurled at our commissioners and so I feel compelled to give some advice. Ask your commissioners good questions in a respectful manner and you will discover they are honorable people willing to listen and explain “transparently” the reasoning behind their decisions. And just because you speak loudly and often doesn’t make your argument persuasive. Nasty attacks on the integrity of our commissioners is dispiriting and completely unhelpful.
We have many impressive people working in the courthouse on our behalf and they did not create the circumstances that have led to our economic pressures, but they are working seriously to mitigate the cuts impacting our citizens. The Douglas County Commissioners are smart, competent and resourceful. We’ve elected them to represent our county to the best of their abilities, and they will.