When I started to get involved in City of Salem issues back in 2013, I was immediately struck by how top City officials didn't care about what citizens had to say. Their disdain for public participation in policy-making was obvious.
Since, I've heard lots of people express the same frustration: during the reign of Queen Mayor Anna Peterson (2011-2016), City Hall has been run in a highly top-down fashion. Decisions are made behind closed doors, then attempts are made to foist a fait accompli onto citizens by their so-called "public servants."
Not surprisingly, this results in a lot of controversy rather than collaboration.
People don't like to be ordered around by politicians -- especially when what's being proposed doesn't make sense and is at odds with community values.
During Peterson's terms as Mayor, a lot of citizen activism energy has been used to stop bad ideas coming from City Hall rather than helping to implement good ideas. Salem suffers as a result.
Needlessly. Because Salem is filled with people who are eager to make this town a better place. Creativity abounds. Expertise overflows.
Unfortunately, Mayor Peterson and her right-wing City Council majority have squandered the opportunity to work openly, honestly, and collaboratively with the people they claim to represent. Too often the general public interest has been sacrificed for a narrow special interest.
Recently the Salem Statesman Journal ran an editorial called "Salem mayor: Your city government at work." It included a statement about the current leadership at City Hall that struck me as obviously untrue.
After I read the editorial, I wrote an online comment.
Here it is, with added links to blog posts that I've written about controversies Mayor Peterson has been involved in from 2013-2016. (As noted above, I wasn't paying close attention to City of Salem goings-on in 2011-2012.)
I've also added another controversy/conflict that came to mind in the course of composing this post, fixed a few typos, and corrected the name of Mountain West Investment.
Wow, I couldn't disagree more with the ending of this editorial: "Such is life in a well-run city. Salem city hall is not constantly engulfed in controversy, and that speaks volumes about the city’s leadership..."
Does the Statesman Journal editorial board pay any attention to what ACTUALLY goes on at City Hall? Here's a sampling of the Mayor Anna Peterson-era controversies I recall from just the past few years.
-- The Public Works Director, Peter Fernandez, makes a backroom deal with the US Bank President, Ryan Allbritton, to have five large beautiful trees on State Street cut down for no good reason. Community outrage results.
-- The City tries to take over part of Riverfront Park for an access road to a Mountain West Investment apartment complex. Community outrage results.
-- The recommendation of the Historic Landmarks Commission to save Howard Hall is ignored, allowing Salem Hospital to tear the building down and replace it with a parking lot that, it turns out, was illegally approved by City officals. Community outrage results.
-- The Mayor tries to push through a plan to put a new police facility on the Civic Center campus next to (and over) Mirror Pond without ever holding a public hearing. Community outrage results.
-- The City puts forward a proposal to both ban the early sale of recreational marijuana in Salem, and also possibly ban sales entirely. Community outrage results.
-- The Mayor adds the block south of the Library to a list of top possible sites for a new police facility after her Civic Center site was shot down. When a public hearing is held, this idea also is shot down by fervent opposition from citizens. Community outrage results.
-- The City's attempt to build a freeway'ish unneeded Third Bridge is derailed by facts and community opposition. A billion dollar "Salem Alternative" is put forth that isn't much, if any, better. Community outrage results.
-- The City tries to use bond funds to buy up properties in the Highland neighborhood for a Third Bridge bridgehead, even though this goes against federal rules for that sort of property acquisition. Community outrage results.
-- The City does such a bad job handling downtown Economic Improvement District funds, the businesses who pay the money vote to do away with the EID district, leaving downtown without an ability to pay for First Wednesday and other promotions.
Lacking coffee in my system this morning, this is the list I've come up with so far. I'll probably be able to add to it when propertly caffeinated.
[Update: Yeah, I can... The City tries to put in parking meters downtown without ever involving downtown businesses or residents in the deliberations of a Downtown Parking Task Force. Community outrage results.]
Anyway, Mayor Peterson has presided over a City Hall administration that has been divisive, closed, and uncaring of citizen participation. Long time watchers of Salem politics say that things are the worst they've ever been at City Hall.
So this editorial gets it wrong. Truth must be told.