Observer editorial board

The La Grande City Council’s decision Wednesday night to begin discussing options to end the city’s relationship with the Union County Economic Development Corporation was a good move.

Readers are most likely aware that the economic development organization was the victim of a multi-year, $20,000 embezzlement that was kept secret from the public. Even as some elected leaders knew about the case, no word of it reached taxpayers.

At one point, even as the embezzlement was, for the most part, still cloaked in secrecy, the Union County Economic Development Corporation asked the city council for more funds during the city’s 2017-2018 budget meetings. Wednesday night the president of the economic development corporation, former Union County Commissioner Mark Davidson, told the council the request for more funding was not connected to the embezzlement scandal.

That’s good news, but the larger question remains: Should the council continue with its contract with the economic development organization? A second question is also relevant: Does the council still retain confidence in the ability of the economic development organization to perform its mission?

Those are key queries that only the city council members can answer. Unfortunately, there is a lot of doubt — in the wake of the embezzlement and the effort to keep it secret — about whether the organization can be trusted. The economic development organization is funded partly through taxpayer funds, and any public entity must strive to be honest brokers. When questions and concerns arise about such an organization, publicly-elected leaders have an obligation to attempt to answer those questions.

There is little doubt that an economic development organization locally is crucial. Frankly, such organizations are important in today’s political climate and can add tremendous value to an area.

Yet the city council is right to ponder whether the Union County Economic Development Corporation is a right fit now. Too many questions remain unanswered, and the elected members of the council must do some soul searching on the matter. That is never an easy endeavor on an important, flashpoint local topic.

Our elected leaders — whether at the national, state or local level — are chosen by voters to do a job. That job — to serve voters’ best interests — can sometimes be difficult and a bit messy. But democracy is messy.

We see the council’s decision Wednesday night as a good example of an elected board beginning down a road to ask tough questions and perhaps make some tough decisions. The board may very well decide to keep working with the Union County Economic Development Corporation. The best thing about it, though, is when the city council reviews the matter they will do it in an open meeting. Not in secret.