CANYON CITY - More than 80 people packed the Grant County Circuit Courtroom Wednesday to vent about layoffs in the Road Department and deteriorating road conditions.
Several residents called for better maintenance of the county's rural roads, and urged that the county keep local workers on the job rather contracting out the work.
The session followed last week's layoff of four workers from the county road crew. Rod Osgood, the Hermiston-based field representative of Local 701, International Union of Operating Engineers, asked the County Court to schedule a time on the April 1 court agenda for a discussion of the layoffs and their impacts.
The issue drew so many people that the Court moved its session from the usual meeting room upstairs to the larger Circuit Courtroom.
Grant County Judge Mark Webb, in a letter March 24, defined the layoffs as indefinite in length and due to "a persistent lack of sufficient work."
Some people attending Wednesday's session objected to that reason.
"You can't keep these people busy on nearly 500 miles of road? You'll never convince me that the work isn't there," said Jim Lenz, who retired from the Road Department in 2007.
Susan Horn, one of the laid off workers, ticked off a list of her duties related to bridge inspections, traffic control, sign-making, ditch work and safety procedures.
"This year is no exception," she said. "The seasonal maintenance that the Road Department has been performing since its beginning has not changed. Our work is waiting for us."
Osgood also raised that issue.
"I don't see how you're going to have five people take care of 490 miles of road," he said. He said there are plenty of overloaded ditches, rocks in the roadways, and potholes and other problems that need addressing now.
"You can drive down any one of our county roads and find something to do," he said.
He asked the Court to answer questions about several issues, including the future of the road department - alluding to concerns about privatization.
As if to confirm those concerns, Dave Traylor submitted a petition, signed by about 100 people, that called for the Court to explore other viable ways to maintain the county's roads. The petition noted that the local area has a qualified labor force and qualified contractors to do the work.
Larry Bryant, a property owner in the Fox area, took the opposite view of contracting out road maintenance. He said low bids don't necessarily translate into high-quality work, and he noted that if the county goes to contracting, there's no guarantee that the jobs would stay in Grant County.
Some others expressed concern about the union influence.
Byron Haberly, a local business owner, said the issue isn't the roads or their condition, but the quality of work for the cost. He said employees need to understand that they have "a boss."
"The union doesn't understand what a boss is,' he said.
Others put the blame on management at the Road Department and what they saw as "micro-management" by the County Court.
"I think the management is the problem. You don't have the experience to do it," said Mary Walker.
But the bottom line for some residents is the condition of the county roads they use to get to and from work.
"The squabbling and the silly politics is keeping people from being able to be safe on the road," said Mark Manning of Long Creek.
Mitch Mund, who lives in the north end of the county, was concerned about the impact that delays in road maintenance could have.
"Road funding is getting tighter. I don't see a big flush of money coming in the future. We need to maintain what we have now," he said.
Webb cut off discussion of some subjects that he said are at issue in pending grievances and a labor relations complaint filed by the union. The state Employment Relations Board has set a May 19-20 hearing on the labor complaint.
More details to come in the next Blue Mountain Eagle.