The Deschutes Economic Alliance is a group that's trying to find some way for Deschutes County to claw its way out of the abyss it fell into when the real estate bubble its economy was floating on popped. To aid in that task it's hired some consultants, one of them being Southern California-based Bill Watkins.
In late June, a Portland radio station sought out Watkins's views on the economic situation in Central Oregon. Watkins didn't pull his punches. The region's communities, he said, are "in bad shape, with an unemployment rate ranging from just a little below 15% to over 17%."
Watkins was substantially accurate. The numbers for June, which just came out this week, show Deschutes County's unemployment rate at 12.5% - actually up 0.3% from a year ago.
But County Commissioners Tammy Baney and Alan Unger were in no mood to hear inconvenient truths. "I would have expected something factual yet positive toward our area" from Watkins, complained Baney. "We aren't going to move forward by repeating the challenges that sort of sound doom-and-gloomy," echoed Unger. (To his credit, Commissioner Tony DeBone showed he was made of sterner stuff. "Those are facts, and I don't think I see anything wrong there," he said.)
Baney and Unger had no way to directly shoot Watkins, but they did the next best thing - they shot his employer, the Deschutes Economic Alliance. On Monday, the DEA came before the county commissioners to ask for a $5,000 grant to pay for the next phase of work to implement a "1,000-Day Road Map" to economic recovery prepared by another consultant, Delore Zimmerman of North Dakota.
DeBone said he was cool with that. But Baney and Unger weren't ready to go ahead. They have questions about what the consultant will do for the money, they said, and expressed doubts the project is worthwhile. (The county previously gave the DEA $3,000 toward it, but that was before Watkins spouted off on the radio.)
Baney and Unger may be sincere in their concerns. But even if they are, this episode makes them and the county look silly. A good consultant tells his clients what they need to know, not what they want to hear. If the county wants cheerleaders instead of consultants, it should hold tryouts like the Portland Trailblazers and Dallas Cowboys do and hire whoever shakes his or her pompoms most enthusiastically.
The county commission could make a final decision this week on the Economic Alliance grant. At this writing we have no way of knowing how that will go. We hope Baney and Unger will see their way clear to okaying the grant - or come up with a better reason for rejecting it than what appears to be a fit of pique.
Otherwise, they'd better bend over and get ready to receive THE BOOT.