On Oct. 30, a group of elected officials met in Goldendale with two private property owners who live along the Klickitat Rail-Trail corridor. The property owners oppose creation of a trail along the former railroad right of way.
The meeting, held at the Public Utility District building in Goldendale, was characterized as a "private" event. Those in attendance included State Sen. Jim Honeyford, State Rep. Bruce Chandler, State Rep. Barb Lisk, Dan Newhouse (a Republican candidate in a contested race for state representative on the Nov. 5 ballot), Washington State Parks Director Rex Derr, Larry Fairleigh, assistant director of State Parks, Klickitat County Planning Department Director Curt Dreyer, and a representative from U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings' office.
The stated goal of the meeting was to calm the controversy over the proposed Lyle-Klickitat trail, and to try to "resolve" the situation. However, holding a private meeting with a group of elected officials and property owners who openly oppose creation of the trail seems more than a little unfair.
None of the local property owners who support
creation of the trail were invited. Neither were any of the small business owners in Klickitat or Lyle who see the trail as likely to provide an economic boost for their businesses.
Honeyford said no trail proponents were invited because State Parks would advocate for their position. But that's unfair to local citizens, who clearly would have wanted to make their own case. Further, private citizens are not subject to the same political pressures that State Parks is subject to. After all, the Washington Legislature controls the budget, and that gives the politicians a lot of leverage over state agencies.
While legal, the meeting reeks on a political level. One of the anti-trail property owners in attendance happens to be the news reporter for The Klickitat Monitor. That in itself is not a big deal, but here's the problem: Alison Hayhoe, news editor of The Goldendale Sentinel, also wanted to attend the meeting. But she was turned away at the door by Sen. Honeyford, who told her the meeting was private.
It's also disturbing that political candidate Dan Newhouse was there. He is not an elected official, and his campaign opponent was not invited. We can't find any fairness in this situation.
Even more deplorable, whatever was decided in the secret meeting won't be announced until Nov. 6 -- the day after the election.
Although we have been generally supportive of Sen. Honeyford over the years, as the senior legislator at this meeting, he should have known better than to bar The Goldendale Sentinel reporter from sitting in on the session.
We wholeheartedly agree with what Diana Kramer, executive director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, had to say about this get-together in Goldendale: "A lot of the distrust about what happens in government occurs because of private meetings like this," Kramer said. "As a practical political matter, it should have been public. Legally they can do this, but it does not help inspire confidence in the system."
To put it another way, and to quote a familiar phrase we hear so often in these parts: "Something stinks in the Gorge."