I am writing this letter in response to the recent vote of the Madras City Council, thus denying the Oregon Child Development Coalition's application to build a new Migrant Head Start facility.
I want to voice, along with the voice of many others, my great sense of disappointment and sadness in this recent action of our City Council. I cannot help but feel that this vote of a majority of the Council is little more than "caving in" to the pressure of a few community members.
While I do believe that some of these community members do have some validity to their concerns, I also believe that these concerns have been addressed as best as possible. For example, the concern of why build the facility in that area of the county. I believe that concern is answered in that the Bean Foundation has donated property for this facility. While it is a nice thought to have the Head Start facility in Metolius or Culver or somewhere closer to the migrant population, their reality is that the donated land, of the Bean Foundation, is where it is. I have heard what one "prominent" leader in our community, and one of the fifteen members opposing the Migrant Head Start location, has said. He stated that the building should be "down there closer to St. Patrick's Catholic Church, where all those people live." While I do not want more traffic in my neighborhood either (as someone else has expressed), I would welcome the Migrant Head Start facility to our neighborhood, because I know what a valuable asset this would be for our community! But again, the reality is that the donated property is located where it is, not "down here" by St. Pat's.
Another valid concern is the expense of the facility and the sense of government waste involved. Though a legitimate concern, it is a concern to be taken up with our congress people. It is a concern which requires a restructuring of the way our tax dollars are spent. This is not a problem of our local Head Start programs; it is a problem that should be addressed at another level of government.
My sadness in this whole ordeal comes from a sense of racism that seems to have raised its ugly head. Though I do not believe that all those fifteen community members who have appealed the Madras Planning Commission's approval to build the facility are racist, the comments of some of these members are nothing but racist and discriminatory. The comments have been shocking to those of us who welcome the Hispanic presence, migrant or not, as a blessing to what our community is in Jefferson County. We have heard the comments on the streets, in our stores, at different hearings, and in the newspapers. I am scandalized by this type if racism, and sadly, this racism will be a mark that overshadows the other concerns of the fifteen community members and our local City Council. So though it would be nice to echo councilor Michael Goss II's sentiment of not wanting to discuss prejudice, a racial issue is very much at the heart of this debate, and cannot be one that is sidestepped.
In the meantime, I will pray for a conversion of heart for those who seem to be attached to this racism, as I highly support the possibility of OCDC appealing, to the State Land Use Board of Appeals, the City Council's decision to deny the application to build the Migrant Head Start.
Fr. Jim Stephens