Benton commissioners: Take time to talk it out

By the Herald editorial staff

The Benton County commissioners are silly. Well, at least they're acting silly on a couple of issues right now -- the fairgrounds and the health district.

We hope it's a temporary condition.

First, let's talk about the health district, again.

The Benton-Franklin Health District is a joint operation, which implies that decisions should be made jointly. It seems, however, that decisions are being made on the south side of the district, then volleyed across the Columbia River.

It's not quite a message in a bottle, but aren't there better ways to work things out? Perhaps commissioners can start by getting all the stakeholders together and communicating?

In the past week, Benton County commissioners have sent three letters to the Franklin County commissioners regarding the health district.

Each of those letters requires convening the board and voting on whether to send the letter. Wouldn't it be more efficient to get representatives of both counties in the same room to talk things out?

We think so, and judging from Herald reporter Kristi Pihl's story today, the Franklin County commissioners think so too.

What's next for Benton County -- Tweeting on cell phones? With Twitter's140-character limit, we can only imagine the messages.

-- "You hurt our feelings. We want to break up."

-- "We hired an interim director, any suggestions? Too late. LOL"

-- "We're going to interview for a replacement. We'll let you know who we choose. Just kidding, you can come."

-- "How about that breakup?"

-- "Here's our new address. Did we tell you we want to move?"

-- "Let's get together sometime. Soon?"

We're exaggerating, of course, but all the letter writing has us shaking our heads.

It must be pretty exciting over in Pasco every time the mail carrier comes. Then the Franklin County half of the bi-county district can see what their counterparts in Benton County are up to.

That's silly enough, but there's also the way the county has handled the Benton-Franklin Fair Association's proposal to buy the fairgrounds.

It may not be the right move, but why aren't the Benton County commissioners considering it? The county operates the fairgrounds at a loss of about $70,000 a year and budgets are lean.

We have to add a disclaimer here. Editorial board member Lori Lancaster is the Benton-Franklin Fair Associationmanager.

However, we haven't made a decision about whether it's a good idea for the county to sell the fairgrounds. We don't have enough information on which to base a decision.

Neither do the commissioners.

That's why we endorsed Commissioner Jim Beaver's proposal to hold a workshop and invite all stakeholders in the fairgrounds to discuss a possible sale.

It was a good idea. Give everyone a chance to raise concerns, then let the fair association try to draft a proposal that addresses whatever issues are identified in the process.

The refusal of Commissioners Leo Bowman and Max Benitz Jr. to hold the workshop is baffling. The county has nothing to lose by exploring its options -- and potentially a lot to gain.

Maybe commissioners were impressed by County Administrator David Sparks observation that the county doesn't have the fairgrounds for sale, and the fair association hasn't offered up a vision of what it would do if it owned theproperty.

They shouldn't have been.

"To give them the keys tothe fairgrounds without knowing what their plans are is totally inappropriate," Sparks told commissioners a week ago.

He would be right -- if anyone were actually suggesting that as a possibility. All anyone really has asked for is a meeting to discuss the idea.

Which, of course, was where the workshop would have come into play -- the workshop commissioners nixed.

The commissioners are starting to look like theyprefer to govern in a vacuum rather than communicating with partners and stakeholders. Let's hope this trend ends soon.