Observer editorial board

A joint work session between the La Grande City Council, the Union County Commissioners and the Union County Economic Development Corporation needs to happen sooner rather than later because local taxpayers deserve some answers.

Many may recall from recent articles in The Observer that the economic development corporation was at the epicenter of an embezzlement scandal last year, an incident that was not divulged to the public. Because this economic development organization draws money — at least half of its budget — from taxpayers, a relevant question is: Why wasn’t the embezzlement public knowledge?

The embezzlement was known to many officials. They just didn’t bother to share or were sworn not to be transparent about it.

Last week, Union County Commissioners Steve McClure and Jack Howard voted to hand over more than $8,000 to the economic development organization to keep it operating for a short period of time. Commissioner Donna Beverage, a member of the UCEDC board, voted against the move.

McClure said during the meeting that it was time to have a discussion regarding the economic development firm’s responsibilities. That was a good — though obvious — point.

Union County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Kavanaugh — who is also a member of the board of directors for the economic development corporation — said during the meeting he was “struggling with this organization.”

Howard said during the meeting the public’s opinion on the situation wasn’t “fully informed.” Howard said the embezzlement case should not — by itself — determine whether the economic development board is critical for the community.

Howard should be lauded for trying to bring a sense of proportion to this case, but his arguments fail to meet the transparency threshold.

Even if taxpayers decided to ignore the ramifications of an embezzlement case that was kept in the dark, another big question lingers: What has the UCEDC done for Union County lately?

Taxpayers’ money is paying for what? A meeting between the commission, the La Grande City Council and representatives from the economic development board needs to happen as soon as possible. Taxpayers need some answers to this entire episode.

No one is questioning motives or implying anything wrong occurred among elected leaders who knew about the embezzlement. No, the public just wants to know how UCEDC is spending its money, and whey they weren’t told of the embezzlement. Citing non-disclosure agreements isn’t an answer.

Let’s get the meeting between the key organizations pushed up on the schedule so that we can all get a sense of closure on this subject.

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