As we write this, Washington County Commissioners are recognizing their volunteers in the Cloverleaf Building at the fairgrounds. Just outside of that assembly is a $20,000 relaxing water feature donated to the fairgrounds to reflect on the power of volunteers.

“A place to reflect on those volunteers, past and present, that have made these fairgrounds such a great place to gather,” was the inscription on a sign removed last week. The sign and fountain was a gift from the Fairground Boosters. The removal of the sign is symbolic of the removal of volunteers from the fairgrounds.

It is no secret that the Fairground Boosters have joined a long list of volunteer organizations that have been placed on an “attempt to destroy” list by the county. The boosters have long defended the role volunteers played in acquiring the present fairgrounds, building the current facilities and responsibly advocating to keep the gates open for everyone.

Volunteers received donations and built nearly every building on the fairgrounds. In the past decade, the county has demolished more than a dozen functioning buildings, apparently in an effort to clear the slate for the commercial use of the fairgrounds. Without the help of engaged volunteers, the county government is attempting to finance an event center with public funds via Gain Share revenue.

It has to be obvious to anyone following events of the last few years that even though the county may hold an event to honor volunteers, they only want those who tow their line. Because the Fairground Boosters were not invited, we can only guess who these volunteers are.

In fact, even when the boosters successfully created and delivered an exhibitor breakfast a few years ago, it was taken away by action of the commissioners’ Fair Board. The breakfast did not cost the taxpayers anything, and was totally presented by volunteers. Upon taking the breakfast away from volunteers and assigning it to paid staff, our Washington County Commission chairman stated: “As I’m sure you will agree, it should not be so important who operates the event ...”

To us, it does matter. We would rather have volunteers present a nutritious breakfast to all exhibitors each day of the fair at no cost to taxpayers, versus the current plan of paid public employees ordering and cooking food only on limited days.

Completing our research on the history of the current fairgrounds for a soon-to-be-published book, there is no doubt this property was acquired, buildings built, trees planted and events managed primarily by volunteers without government intrusion. This volunteer concept is alive and well in our schools, churches, communities — and why not the fairgrounds? We probably need it more now than ever, especially if we hope to have a worthy legacy to pass on to future generations.

A missing sign that saluted volunteers, taking away a fair breakfast sponsored by volunteers and other attempts to silence volunteers should give every citizen pause. It is disingenuous, divisive, expensive and does not build a sense of community. We need to select commissioners who believe in people and their role in the fairgrounds. That is why we are actively supporting Washington County Board of Commissioners’ candidates Amabisca, Furse and Malinowski, each of whom have pledged to do just that.

Lyle Spiesschaert lives in Forest Grove; Matt Pihl lives in Banks.

Contract Publishing

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