Greg is a lovely name, but it causes a lot of confusion for the good people of Umatilla County.
Sometimes state Rep. Greg Smith’s staff fields complaints about votes that U.S. Rep. Greg Walden made, or a citizen asks Greg Smith for help only to be reminded they are represented by his neighboring-district colleague Rep. Greg Barreto. Other times Greg Walden gets the blame in the Facebook comments on an article about something Greg Smith did.
Since newspapers usually refer to people by their last name, this does not cause me as much difficulty in my reporting as keeping track of the preponderance of Smiths, particularly when quoting Hermiston city manager Byron Smith and Hermiston city councilor Doug Smith from the same meeting (on a side note, this seems to suggest that Greg Smith’s parents get credit for coming up with the ultimate Hermiston politician name).
But even if the Gregs and the Smiths were to all change their names to things like Herbert Nithercott and Sherlock Portendorfer, there will always be confusion on behalf of some citizens about who to call when they have a problem with government. The fact is, government is just plain confusing.
I’ve covered various levels of government in the six years I’ve worked as a journalist, and even I still call the wrong agency for information sometimes. But there are a few general rules of thumb:
• If the issue with roads, code enforcement, law enforcement, water/sewer or parks happens inside city limits, call city hall.
• If it happened inside Umatilla County but outside of city limits, or if it involves things like public health or the courts, call the county courthouse.
• If it happened on a state highway or interstate, or involves state regulations, call or email your state representative or state senator.
• If it falls under a federal agency like the Veterans Administration, or it’s an issue that Congress is voting on such as the Affordable Care Act, call or email your congressperson or senator’s office.
• If you’re a little unsure about which category your problem falls under, Google, the news media and government websites can help you out, but if not, take your best guess and the person on the other end will almost always be willing to refer you to the right place.
Another underutilized option is to take your complaint directly to an entire city council or county commission via the public comment section of meetings. Hermiston’s city council meets on the second and fourth Monday of each month, and there is always time for comments on both non-agenda and agenda items. Last week Santa Claus stopped by to wish councilors a Merry Christmas and a self-proclaimed “concerned citizen or whatever” asked the council to consider putting more signs up to let semi trucks know that Main Street is no longer a truck route through town.
Once a man even testified that the Hermiston Butte was really a giant person who would rise up to defend us when aliens invaded Hermiston someday. It was certainly one of the more memorable government meetings I’ve covered, but even if your concerns are a little more run-of-the mill, don’t let that stop you from getting involved.
Jade McDowell is an interim editor of the Hermiston Herald. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.