Lodging tax lessons: Do it the right way

Editorial voice of the Chieftain

“There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything.”

If you’re beyond a certain age, you’ve no doubt heard that phrase from a parent or grandparent. They spoke from experience, often having tried the “wrong” way and learned a valuable lesson.

That saying came to mind this past week as the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners made the right choice in shelving –– for now –– a plan to broaden its transient lodging tax. Clearly, this effort did not follow due process or legal procedure. It was the wrong way to go about it.

This is a huge growing-up experience for the county. The days of things being done by fiat and whim are over. Residents and taxpayers deserve better.

The days of back-door under-the-table “gentlemen’s agreements” is over and a new level of transparency has emerged. It’s a positive development for everyone who believes in open government.

The discussion that ensued has not only pointed out the importance of collaboration, but it has also generated a new vision for what the Wallowa County Fairgrounds could become –– an important asset in our attempt to build a vibrant tourism economy.

No one would suggest for a minute that the traditional county fair be jettisoned. Rather, it can be enhanced by attracting people who need to hear the stories of how agriculture has been and continues to be important to the county’s economy. Farmers feed the nation.

Tourists from large urban areas seldom get the chance to interface with large animals and the folks who raise them. That’s unique. That’s an attraction.

It’s going to require breaking a few eggs to make the transition, but it’s worth doing. Wallowa County Board of Commissioners are the key to making it happen, but they can’t do it without you –– your ideas, your input and even your financial contribution, should it come to that.

But everything has to be done above-board and within legal parameter.

The suit against the commissioners alleging 17 ways in which it violated the state’s Open Meeting Laws and the letter of protest the Chieftain produced have all had a positive impact on how business is done at the county level.

Credit where credit is due. There is a breath of fresh air that is blowing through the courthouse, and it’s refreshing to see. Let’s continue to move in the direction of more open communication and consensus-building, rather than strong-arm tactics and belittling those who disagree.

Another good way to show that we’ve reached a new plateau in openness would be for the commission to initiate a grass-roots process for choosing members of a proposed advisory group, a campaign promise of the late Bruce Dunn. A chorus of “yes” men and women is not what’s needed to tackle the sticky issues facing the county.

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