November 09, 2001 11:00 pm

Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training Director Dianne Middle appears to be getting what shes wanted all along in seeing that the states new Public Safety Academy move onto state-owned property in Salem. This is occurring even though Salem Mayor Mike Swaim urged the state to keep the police training academy and its 80-plus jobs in Monmouth to avoid disrupting that communitys economy.

Two other Oregon towns, Sweet Home and Scappoose, had spent thousands of dollars and many hours trying to land the academy in their communities. It appears that Middle already had made up her mind even though the idea of landing the new academy had been dangled to every county in the state. Even Union County submitted a plan.

They should have been up front and turned it over to a neutral, unbiased research firm, complained Scappoose City Manager Jerry Gillham.

Sweet Home City Manager Craig Martin added, Why come out and get the hopes up of communities like Sweet Home and Scappoose for a peach of a government agency? That really hurts a community like this.

The credibility of state government is already razor-thin, but when an agency head appears to orchestrate this kind of action, is it any wonder that local communities lose interest in working with the state? Middle still has to go to the states Emergency Board to get the money to start preliminary designs.

Speaker of the House Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, a member of that board, should call for a review of how the siting process worked. He also should ask that an independent research firm be hired to determine if it would be better to keep the academy in Monmouth and purchase the necessary land to enlarge the current facility. It also would make sense to see if Sweet Home or Scappoose would be equal or better sites than Salem.

Simmons should have the clout to demand a look at the process. And if anyone should understand how it feels to be in a rural, struggling area, Simmons should. After all, Eastern Oregon is constantly passed up for opportunities like this.

Locating the facility in La Grande would have provided opportunities for officers in training to work at prisons in Ontario, Baker City, Pendleton and Umatilla. And it could have been linked to one of the states universities.

Its time that state agency directors start looking outside the box, and not just view Salem or Portland as the premium areas where key state facilities should be located.