The Arrogance of Government Officials

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med_Pamelas_Mug_copy62Central Oregon may not be the only region that has ongoing challenges with state officials who seem bent on maneuvering deals without public input, but we certainly have an abundance of our share of difficulties.
The latest rift over a questionable land deal by the Department of State Lands comes on the top of the placement of the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles office at the Brookswood Meadow Plaza. Even after Rep. Judy Stiegler brought decision makers from Salem to hear directly from residents of Bend, the DMV held steadfast in its decision to place the local DMV office where it is not only not welcome by the neighborhood, but where it is geographically inconvenient to other residents in the Bend area.
The arrogance of the DMV officials to state that they can place it anywhere they choose without public input is supercilious and insulting to taxpayers who are paying their salaries.
While a public review of where a state agency can place an office is not mandated it would have been prudent for the Bend Planning Department that issued the building permit and the DMV to use common sense and avert a public relations disaster by informing the surrounding neighborhood of its intentions. State agency staff should have at a minimum notified and consulted local legislators and other local elected officials prior to signing a contract.
It’s despicable that a state agency does not have to follow a proper notification process to inform the public of any building plans.
The Bend Planning Department staff should have raised red flags over the parking, traffic and appropriateness of the DMV location. They are not serving the public well by sitting on their hands letting the state ramrod this siting.
In late September the Bend City Council unanimously signed a strongly worded letter to the governor questioning the wisdom of locating a DMV at the southern end of town and away from the city’s main transportation corridor. The council also pointed out that state facility sitings should comply with local land use plans, but in this case the facility is supposed to be a regional DMV serving the entire city and does not appear to fit within the purpose of a convenience commercial district that is designed to serve just the surrounding neighborhood.
These are issues that should have raised concerns with the city’s planning department regardless of the legal allowance of the DMV proposal.
Unfortunately the agency already has a signed lease agreement for the space and plans to move in by the end of the year. 
While the Brookswood Meadow neighbors were trying to unravel the DMV shoving their office down their throats another state agency was also acting in a less the forthright manner.
The Department of State Lands, with some $6 million in the bank to invest in land around the state, proposed to purchase a site on Bluff Drive in Bend’s Old Mill District.
A few things are questionable about the deal. First the site is co-owned by the parents of DSL Assistant Director James Paul IV who transferred from another state department just a few months ago. The property is currently in foreclosure and Paul’s parents and other owners were desperate to sell it. There is clearly a tinge of conflict to the deal, although DSL officials have said they followed all the conflict of interest rules.
Many in the local real estate community (realtors, developers, appraisers) have indicated to us that they were very surprised to learn that the state in now in the business of purchasing investment property.  There is a lot of property up for grabs in Central Oregon right now and the state has not let anyone publicly know about their purchasing plans.
This land purchase was set at $315,000, however the state did not seek their own appraisal of the property to verify that market value nor did it test it for environ-
mental contamination.
In this case the governor has decided to intercede in the deal and ordered the Department of Justice to look in the conflict of interest issue. The governor’s office should also be looking into why the state would purchase a vacant piece of land without knowing its value and without having any income generating potential. Surely there are other properties in the region in foreclosure that the state could consider. Deschutes County should be concerned as well because once this property is purchased by the state it is taken off the property tax rolls.
If the state is going to get into the land investment business then it should have a plan in place that provides guidelines for purchasing property. It’s a shame that it can all be derailed by one silly, dubious offer.
Our legislators should be working to make government agencies and their staff more transparent and ensure that these kinds of problems do not happen in the future. pha

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