I like the subtitle of my just-released "Outrage: Salem's U.S. Bank tree killings" report.
The true story of how City officials and the bank president cut down five large, healthy, beautiful downtown trees for no good reason, and misled citizens about why they did it.
The highly readable report is based on new information I got about this debacle after forking out $726.61 for public record requests that reveal for the first time how truly outrageous the tree killings were.
Download Outrage - Salem's U.S. Bank tree killings (1.5 MB PDF file)
These trees were entirely innocent. They weren't diseased. The sidewalk wasn't being damaged by them. They could have been pruned rather than killed. The City of Salem's own tree expert and its Shade Tree Advisory Committee said so repeatedly. As did arborists and dozens of concerned citizens who loved the five State Street trees and wanted them saved.
When you read the "10 reasons to be outraged by how this stump came to be" in my report, you'll understand why I called the report what I did: Outrage.
Whether or not you live in Salem, Oregon, if you care about ethical government, trees, the environment, urban livability -- or just enjoy a tale of special interest deal-making gone wild -- you need to read the 18 page report.
Download Outrage - Salem's U.S. Bank tree killings
This is a case study of how city government shouldn't work.
Here the Public Works Director, Peter Fernandez, ignored the law, facts, expert advice, advisory committee recommendations, and lots of public testimony so he could keep a back-room verbal promise to the U.S. Bank president, Ryan Allbritton, to cut the five large, healthy, beautiful trees down.
The extra-legal promise itself is bad enough. Worse, Fernandez made that promise two years before the bank started the required process of filing an application to remove the trees.
Even so, Public Works Director Fernandez was all set to order that the trees be pruned, rather than removed, until bank president Allbritton reminded him of that "just between us" deal they'd made together. It didn't matter that Albritton was unable to give a single coherent reason why the trees needed to be killed.
After Fernandez spoke with the bank president, everything changed.
Allbritton got an unusual second chance to argue his extremely flimsy tree-killing case. He lobbied city councilors, who weren't bothered by Allbritton's mention of the verbal promise.
Maybe because this is the way the City of Salem habitually does things under its current leadership -- working out deals with special interests behind the scenes, then going through a show of holding public hearings and issuing a formal decision.
Like I say throughout the report, outrageous. There's more juicy details in the 18 pages, of course.
The report includes an opinion letter from my land use and environmental law attorney which demolishes (1) Public Works Director Fernandez' false claim that he was obligated by an ordinance to allow the trees to be cut down, and (2) the repeated inaccurate assertion by City staff that Fernandez' decision couldn't be appealed.
Feel free to leave comments or questions about my report. See "Comments" below. Or you can email me.
In the Conclusion section, I say:
This is no way to run city government.
It isn’t a liberal or a conservative issue. Democrats, Republicans, and independents should be equally outraged when important decisions are made by officials that are at odds with facts, the law, citizen values, and the broad public interest.
Currently revisions to Salem’s tree ordinance are being considered. Hopefully ordinance changes will ensure that indefensible tree removal decisions like the one described in this report never will happen again.
However, City government carries on.
City officials will be making other decisions that affect Salem’s pocketbook, well-being, economic development, and quality of life. Changes have to be made at City Hall. Business as usual means more bad decisions like the U.S. Bank tree removal debacle.
Citizens shouldn’t have to spend $726.61, like I did, to learn why and how local appointed and elected officials are making important public policy decisions. Salem’s City government should be open, transparent, and responsive to the broad public interest, not narrow special interests.
Update: I did a 29 minute interview about the U.S. Bank tree killings on Ken Adam's "Valley View" program. Have a look. Ken asked good questions and I feel like my answers were pretty damn good also.