Though I enjoy starting blog post titles with Dude, where's (see here), I'm bothered by the subject matter of this one.
Because the City of Salem has disappeared a five-year project aimed at making seismic upgrades and other renovations to the Civic Center, along with building a new police facility.
At the March 24 City Council meeting, City Manager Linda Norris said it is unlikely that a bond levy for the project will be on the November ballot.
Unless some other source of funding is found, this means that children and other visitors to the Library will continue to use a building that likely would collapse when, not if, the BIg One earthquake hits Oregon. Also, the current police headquarters is on the ground floor of what probably will be a pancaked Civic Center.
Even more so, because many people in the Salem community were ready and willing to back an efficient $40 million project rather than the wasteful $80 million project City officials have been pushing.
At the City Council meeting, architect Geoff James of Salem Community Vision said in a public comment period that his group would work to pass a $40 million levy.
Twenty million each for a new police facility and Civic Center renovations. Dozens of people even wore a sticker showing their support for this.
This has been a botched effort from the beginning, which is all too typical of how the City of Salem goes about its business these days.
It started off secretively. It rushed to judgment without public input on the expensive Civic Center site for a new police facility. It ignored experts who recommended a project costing half as much. It wasted money on a biased push poll that still showed weak support for the project.
About all I give City officials credit for is consistency.
They have consistently done their best to keep their planning efforts out of the public eye. Which came back to bite them when the public spoke loudly after being presented with a fait accompli and said, "We don't want to pay more than $80 million for a project that should cost $40 million."
The project disappeared as secretively as it began.
No public hearings. No formal City Council discussion. Just an announcement by the City Manager that the project is on hold until June when, maybe, the Council will take up the subject again. Even Statesman Journal editorial page editor Dick Hughes was taken aback by the sudden secretive action.
Somehow I had missed the Salem City Council’s decision not to put a bond measure on the November ballot for a new police facility and upgrades of the Civic Center and library.
There was a lot of misunderstanding about the city’s proposal, as well as what action the council might take last week.
That illustrates how the city’s public-outreach methods are old-fashioned instead of innovative, as I wrote about in my March 9 column.
What's particularly galling about this debacle is how Mayor Anna Peterson likes to talk about Salem being a "collaboration capital." Yet City officials avoid collaborating with concerned citizens like the plague. It's a My Way or the Highway bunch who inhabit the managerial offices at City Hall.
All they had to do was say to the many advocates of a less costly proposal, "Help us come up with a better idea." This probably would have produced a genuinely collaborative plan, and a united front for a $40 million November bond levy vote.
Now the seismic upgrades and police facility plans are stalled. Going nowhere, because the public who were ignored by City officials during four years of mostly secretive planning didn't jump to embrace an over-priced project plan they had no opportunity to be involved with.
My hope is that upcoming City Council elections will bring some much-needed fresh approaches to a Salem city government that badly needs a management makeover.
My fear is that the propensity of City officials to play secretive political games will continue. This is just a hypothesis at the moment, but I could see them fiddling inappropriately with existing pots of money, finding a barely-legal way to fund a Police Facility/Civic Center project without asking for voter approval.
Hopefully this won't happen. Our local public servants need to remember why that term is used for them.