Editors Note: Evan Bryan wrote a previous Opinion piece earlier in December and sent it into the Herald. That story Bringing Back The “Oregon Way” To Economic Development which was read by over 2,500 people stirred some serious controversy and generated calls and emails to City Hall. At stake was a historic white oak tree that stood in the way of development. Evan had hoped for a solution to move the road around the tree. That was not possible in the end. His follow-up to the City was sent in about 10 days ago and we just now are running it as our Holiday coverage was a priority.
Having said that we want to mention that the City did reach out to Evan and I was invited to participate in a meeting regarding the economic build-up in North Hillsboro. Many topics were covered and both sides (City and Citizens) got their points across. Going forward we want all of you readers as residents to know that some of the oak’s wood will be preserved and incorporated into a trailhead bench or display. The City staff is looking into some clear mapping of the additional changes to come out there, they will be many. SIgnificant disruption and cutting of trees will happen now and in the future but assurances were made that each time that happens, another area in the immediate locale will be enhanced and planted. We will share the maps of the North Hillsboro Industrial lands when it comes out.
The Herald will be closely involved in reporting the story of the economics and the human and natural resource stresses created as a result. Expect much more on these topics. Evan Bryan is one of the many concerned Hillsboro residents we have spoken with the past two months. One of our primary missions is to report on Hillsboro’s rapid growth and the winners and losers in that equation. The processes City Hall are following are those set by previous administrations, but that does not mean they are inflexible. We have many friends in the City and respect the important and often difficult work and decisions they need to make. Here are Evan’s thoughts and very powerful words that were sent in after the tree was cut.
This is testimony written by Evan Bryan, a farmer and political consultant living north of Hillsboro. This testimony was submitted for the December 15th council meeting. Mr. Bryan submitted it to the Hillsboro Herald as a commentary and it has been published as it was submitted to the Hillsboro City Council.
Dear Mayor Callaway and Members of the Council,
Thank you for the opportunity to provide written testimony. My name is Evan Bryan and I live just north of Hillsboro on a farm that has been in my family for over a 100 years. We have seen unprecedented changes in our community in recent years. While we are not opposed to these changes, we do hope that the city will improve on communication and planning to save our region’s unique natural resources.
Over a month ago, it came to my attention that a longtime oak tree was right in the path of the proposed Huffman Street extension, which will service the area being discussed tonight. Knowing that the city is moving fast in North Hillsboro, I immediately contacted City Manager Robby Hammond. Mr. Hammond responded and connected me with officials who could further explain the project. While I understand that their hands were tied by the City Council, I very much appreciate their willingness to engage with me and offer a solution. Their conduct and professionalism are exactly what exemplifies the ideal ‘public official.’
Ultimately, it is not necessarily their job to engage with constituents in the absence of the elected officials. This is where I think they went above and beyond. In most cases, it would be the City Councilors responding to constituent inquiries and helping the constituents navigate the process as an elected official.
In an effort to save the Huffman Oak, I put together a petition that garnered hundreds of signatures. I worked with community stakeholders (many of who live inside the city limits) to write to the council. It was very difficult to reach some of you because the only way we could contact you was through an online submission form via the City Manager’s office. While this is a way for your constituents to contact you, it is unclear how the e-mails are sorted to allow you to respond to constituents from your specific districts. Who does that? How long does it take, especially if the inquiry or request is time sensitive?
Also, some correspondence could be confidential and specifically intended for a particular council member. It also seems inappropriate to have non-elected city staff reviewing your constituent correspondence, especially if it involves a personnel matter or issue. A directory with your government e-mails listed would be a great improvement or at least a more specific contact form that forwards the e-mails directly to the specific council member.
With that being said, we were disappointed in the lack of response from the Council. We didn’t expect an immediate agreement to our campaign but an explanation of why the Huffman Oak had to be cut was called for from an elected official. I appreciate Councilor Anthony Martin responding to people who wrote to him. While they didn’t agree, his response as an elected official, was appreciated.
As I told Mr. Hammond in an e-mail, I am bothered with the direction I see the city going. During the Huffman Oak campaign, efforts were taken by a couple of council members to discredit us and question the actual age of the tree. Yet, no arborist report was produced and I found it outright appalling that Hillsboro City Councilors would try to discredit a group of concerned citizens who take the well being of our community seriously. When the initial age put forward by Mayor Callaway was challenged by us, the tree suddenly aged 100 years overnight. Amazing! If an arborist report actually changed that quickly, I hope the city will get their money back.
In moving forward, I hope there will be a more inclusive atmosphere at City Hall. Your constituents elected you to represent them but some of you are falling short of that duty. We live in an unprecedented time when people need to have confidence in their elected representatives. While no politician can be perfect all the time, the expectation is that they avoid petty behaviors and falsehoods to discredit constituents. Our city and community are better than that.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to testify. I’m saddened that the Huffman Oak had to be cut down to make way for this ‘interim’ road that will service this site. In the future, please try to avoid taking out longstanding trees that are important to this region’s cultural and environmental heritage. I’m also confused as to why this application has an ‘emergency declaration.’ Due to the current pandemic and lackluster constituent outreach, I worry that expediting these applications could suppress public knowledge and input. Practices such as this was definitely a contributing factor to the Huffman Oak’s demise.
In the short term, your efforts will be hailed as a brief success for “progress” by quickly passing these types of emergency applications. The real question, though, is what kind of Hillsboro do we want to leave for future generations? That will be your defining legacy as our elected leaders.