A Tapestry of Memories
Four years serving west Lane County
By Bill Fleenor
As your outgoing west Lane County commissioner, I would like to share a few memories, observations and insights into my past four years. As with any community service where you’re part of a greater cause, in most cases your life is forever changed — this has happened for me.
West Lane County citizens elected me with a 61 percent majority in the June 2006 primary. Since that day, I committed myself to delivering a high level of constituent service and fiscal responsibility — an often challenging but satisfying task. However, in retrospect, it was the meeting of so many interesting people at the doorstep, or just talking at the grocery store, that were for me the most positive life-changing events.
Along with my Constituent Services Aid Dianne Burch, I tackled a backlog of years of deferred constituent needs and pleas for help. We focused on helping hundreds of folks navigate their way through what can be a maze of county codes, policies and people. We felt that if it was a constituent’s problem, it was our problem; and no problem was too large or too small to pursue.
Some of our successes were as straightforward as helping a family whose furnace quit in the middle of a extreme cold spell. We cut through county red tape, and the shivering family received a replacement furnace permit within 24 hours. We helped many small businesses, including the Morning Glory Coffee Cart in Walton, obtain operating permits, and we assisted medium sized and large businesses, such as Glory Bee and Grain Millers, receive economic development money or navigate through the web of land use planning.
The highlight of my service were the almost 200 community dialogues held throughout west Lane County that brought local government to the people, listening, learning and adapting to their needs and concerns. These dialogues in Dunes City, Florence, Deadwood, Blachly, Walton, Veneta, Junction City and Santa Clara were where the rubber hit the road. People from all over the political and economic spectrum freely spoke their minds with the occasional passionate outburst, making for some very interesting and special exchanges. We discovered no matter what a person looked like or how they spoke, we could always count on learning a thing or two about life. I will forever be grateful to those who attended these meetings.
I’ve kept a close eye on county finances, based on my decades of business and research experience. I believe county government must be eagle-eyed about her fiscal reality — not ostrich-like. With county income plummeting, fixed costs rising, services threatened and the legal requirement of a balanced budget, keeping her head in the sand is not an option. A deliberate, steady, thoughtful approach to cost cutting minimizes risks and promotes positive outcomes. This in turn, gives those who need and depend on county programs and services time to adjust, find alternatives or create new options. Unfortunately, there are many vitally important programs that will be chopped if efforts fail to win back Secure Rural Schools funding.
I’ve developed some deep and lasting professional friendships with a few extraordinary county employees — from public works to legal counsel — who stepped up to provide exceptional constituent services; for that, I’m truly appreciative. I also want to express my respect to our county workforce. Lane County performs hundreds of services — issuing birth and death certificates, restaurant inspections, senior flu shot clinics, solid waste management, road safety maintenance, elections, law enforcement, land management, animal services, mental health, WIC — the whole alphabet soup of tasks — any of which, if allowed to fail, would leave a gaping hole in the safety net and fabric of everyday life.
I take with me a rich tapestry of memories that will be forever part of my life. Some of these memories are based upon challenging issues, in particular, and regrettably, being forced to pit vital social programs against law enforcement and jail beds. Combining the clarity of 20/20 hindsight with the uncertainty of the future, I project that if we all work together, minimize political rhetoric and focus clearly on solving the problems of today, we will succeed in making our county a better place to live, work and raise our children. If we persist with the politics of personal destruction, we will all be harmed. It’s up to all of us who care about our county to minimize this inefficient and ineffective use of our resources. After all, it’s our collective futures, and our children’s futures, that are at stake.
Bill Fleenor serves on the Lane Board of County Commissioners until January.