AP NEWS

Editorial: Parks Director right to prioritize communication

April 11, 2019

If a tree falls in Douglas County, someone is sure to have heard it.

The county’s parks have been the center of controversy over the past several years, which got particularly heated when Busenbark Park was clear-cut in 2015.

That struggle, between park supporters and the county government, has created an atmosphere of extreme sensitivity and distrust. Park supporters assume the county is hungry to slash and turn a quick buck while government officials seem to be growing tired of dealing with the same group of people who disagree with every move.

Which leads us to the recent controversy at Whistler’s Bend Park. Plans to remove about 11 hazard trees at the park had been mentioned at several Douglas County Parks Advisory Board meetings last year, but when park supporters wandered into the park to see for themselves, they found dozens of trees cut and stacked into piles.

The tree removal resulted in several community members penning letters to the editor bashing the parks department, including some who called for the removal of Douglas County Parks Director Rocky Houston.

Houston didn’t step down — nor should he — because instead, he did something far better: He learned from his mistake.

Not in cutting down the trees — Houston said more than 11 trees had to be cut down because they were identified as hazard trees, caused by drought and poor soil conditions — but in engaging with and informing the public.

He said as much when he authored a guest column for The News-Review. “We will continue to work on improving our engagement with partners and in communicating with the public on decisions being made to enhance the recreation in our parks,” he wrote.

Houston should have known cutting trees in our county’s parks will result in unavoidable controversy. He was hired after the infamous Busenbark drama, but Houston, a South Umpqua High School grad, is a Douglas County native. But his actions since critics took aim at his office have been refreshing.

Houston addressed the criticism in his guest column, he talked openly and respectively at a tour of Whistler’s Bend, and he was much more transparent with his department’s plans to remove trees at Iverson Memorial Park. Those three things show us that Houston is beginning to understand that it isn’t necessarily the actions of county government that gets under people’s skins, it’s how that business is conducted and ultimately presented to the public.

Transparency is vitally important. We hope Houston follows through on his word and continues to improve his communication.