Who says nothing interesting ever happens in Salem (Oregon)? Well, I do, a lot.
But ever since it was reported that recently constructed Courthouse Square -- a building that houses most county offices, along with the downtown transit mall -- is in serious danger of falling down, things have been popping in the local newspaper.
Today the Statesman Journal ran a bunch of stories and opinion pieces about this debacle. The $34 million building, which takes up an entire block, is being vacated as quickly as possible. It might not be repairable.
Yet it opened just ten years ago, in 2000, when one of the three current Republican county commissioners, Patti Milne, was in office. The other commissioners came along a bit later, Janet Carlson in 2002 and Sam Brentano in 2003.
All of them are open to the eminently justifiable criticism that they fiddled around while Courthouse Square came ever closer to falling to the ground.
Somehow I suspect that if three Democratic commissioners had overseen this massive waste of taxpayer money (structural problems became apparent in 2002, but were never effectively addressed), the Chamber of Commerce-dominated Statesman Journal would be a lot harder on the politicians in charge.
Instead, we got some pablum about how wonderful the current commissioners are:
The Marion County Board of Commissioners was dysfunctional as the project was moving along. One commissioner was an alcoholic and ineffective. Then new people were elected, but the three commissioners couldn't get along. Amid this infighting, the commissioners erred by hiring a county executive who lasted only nine months.
Today, Marion County has three commissioners who work well together, a respected administrator in John Lattimer and professional managers in key positions.
Well, if they work so well together, why are we Marion County citizens stuck with owing $20 million on Courthouse Square even though the building is unusable, and the commissioners have agreed to settle with the architects/contractors for only about $1.8 million?
It sure seems like our "thrifty" Republican county commissioners have just dug taxpayers an $18.2 million hole -- not counting all the money it's going to cost to rent space to house county employees for a long time.
Some comments on the Statesman Journal articles hit the political nail on the head.
The newspaper, Chamber of Commerce, and county commissioners were strongly opposed to Measure 24-292 -- a citizen sponsored ballot initiative that would have expanded the board of commissioners from three to five members, and made the positions non-partisan.
The Measure failed, largely because of sleazy lies by the opposition (which I documented in several blog posts that can be accessed via this Google search).
Yet it was designed to correct the faulty decison-making by the Marion County board of commissioners which has led to the Courthouse Square mega-mess. Here's what a couple of people cogently said in the above-mentioned comments:
On another note, you might want to review the time-line on the present county administration's competence in evaluating and responding to this. The video covers it in the County's own words.
2000 -Building completed. Faults were immediately noted by many.
2002 - the faults were mutiplying. Without any outside study, the county decided they were "cosmetic".
2004 - The Transit Dist. filed suit. The faults in the mall and the building continued to accelerate.
Late 2008 -the county hired the first outside engineering firm to look at it.
2009 -the county claimed again that the faults were extensive, expensive but "cosmetic".
late 2009 - another Eng. study was ordered.
mid 2010 -the truth is out and the evacuation starts.
Remember 24-292; thrashingly defeated by the efforts of the Chamber and this paper? Its premise was that 5 commissioners could make better decisions than three; trust flows from accountability. The current slate of commissioners said look at us; trust us, because we work together better than others. This editorial undermines that premise showing that serendipity is more a matter of chance than it is of anything else. The arguments in this editorial stand as an eloquent justification for what 24-292 hoped to implement.
At the time the decisions were made you had three commissioners - one an alcoholic, and a second (still sitting, by the way) a notorious dim bulb.
Voters get what they are persuaded to vote for. The arguments the Commissioners used to defeat 24-292 are the very arguments the paper deplores in its editorial.
The "good ol' boys" are still around, even if two wear skirts.
The Statesman Journal should admit that it made a mistake in opposing Measure 24-292, because now we've seen what happens when Marion County government is run by only three partisan politicians: the county building falls apart, and taxpayers are left holding an expensive bag.