Perception matters

November 20, 2007 12:00 am

We commend the Baker County Board of Commissioners for trying to finish the renovation of the old armory, now known as the Community Events Center, as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

But commissioners should not have exempted the county Fair Board, which is overseeing the renovation, from Oregon's competitive bidding law.

To be clear: We don't think the commissioners' decision was illegal, unfair or even wrong.

The problem with their decision, which allows the Fair Board to hire as project superintendent Larry Kelso, who works for Sid Johnson & Co. of Baker City, is that it creates the perception that commissioners gave preferential treatment to the employee, Kelso, of a company whose co-owner, Mark Johnson, is himself a Fair Board member.

As it happens, we agree with the commissioners that Kelso is the ideal person to oversee the renovation. As Johnson told commissioners, Kelso is more familiar with the project than anyone else.

But here's the rub: When taxpayers' dollars are being spent, as is the case with the Community Events Center, perception matters.

Commissioners should have followed the normal competitive bidding process. It would have taken more time, but commissioners could have secured the job for Kelso without having to explain why they sidestepped Oregon law, even though such a move was legal, to do so.