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Local editorials

An ominous beginning

It won't hurt county commissioners to listen to those they disagree with

We agree with Jackson County Commissioner Jack Walker that it's too late in the game to seriously consider a group's request that it, rather than a golf course developer, be given control of a small parcel along Bear Creek. But we don't agree with his decision not to let the group make its case before the commissioners.

That strikes us as an ominous beginning for a newly seated board. In its very first meeting, it tells a group of county citizens that it won't even take the time to put them on the agenda. The message, intended or not, is essentially if you don't agree with us, we don't want to hear from you.

The group, which calls itself the Greenway Stewardship Alliance, has proposed that it be granted guardianship of about 9 acres of land along Bear Creek near Ashland's northern city limits. The county has previously agreed to negotiate a lease of the land to the developer of the proposed Billings Ranch Golf Course.

We agree with the board on the basic argument: Allowing the golf course to use the 9 acres makes sense. It allows the developer to create a larger championship golf course that will be a boost to the region's tourism economy without creating any significant negative impact to the Greenway or the creek.

(An aside here: It seems to us that many environmental groups have promoted tourism as an alternative to the area's resource-based economy. Yet those same groups oppose tourism-related recreational opportunities like golf courses and ski areas. They want it both ways.)

We also agree with Walker that the board has already set a course and that the alliance has shown up too late in the process to have its proposal seriously considered. But while Walker may be right, he only furthers the divide between the board and its more liberal constituents when he denies them an opportunity to say their piece. Sure, they can address the board during the public comment portion of the meeting, but issues raised in that portion of the meeting are rarely given much weight.

— What would it hurt for the Board of Commissioners to put the group on its agenda and spend 15 or 20 minutes hearing their case? It would be time well spent in terms of showing the community that everyone, regardless of political or philosophical leanings, is welcome to address the county's top elected officials.

Sitting at the bottom

Unless you're willing to take a low-wage job, Jackson County may not be the place for you.

In a survey done by Oregon Business Magazine, Jackson County was dead last of the 15 largest counties in the Pacific Northwest. In King County in Washington state, workers make an average of &

36;940 a week. In Oregon's Washington County, they make &

36;890. In Jackson County, employees average only &

36;555 a week.

It's easier said than done, of course, but Jackson County business and government leaders need to figure out how to increase salaries in this part of the state. If not, the local economy runs the risk of creating an underclass that requires little training and exists on permanently low salaries.

Unlike the Portland area, Jackson County hasn't been able to replace the higher-paid jobs lost as the timber industry declined over the past 20 years. The Portland metro area replaced them with technological jobs, said Marple's Pacific Northwest Letter editor Michael Parks.

Technology is where the action is, and (Southern Oregon) has been depending on tourism and retirement, he said.

He's right. Southern Oregon must create a viable economic base or fail in the battle for a strong economy.