A lot of malicious political gossip gets spread around supposedly-friendly Salem. Here at Salem Political Snark, we're out to separate false accusations from true facts.
This time, the accusation is that Mayor candidate Carole Smith promoted divisive, unproductive conflict while on the Downtown Advisory Board.
Like Fox News likes to say -- and I'm barely capable of typing these words, given the source -- "We Report, You Decide."
Brent DeHart is a recent past president of the Salem Chamber of Commerce. Smith's opponent, Chuck Bennett, has been endorsed by the Chamber. Here's DeHart's letter to the editor that appeared in the Statesman Journal on April 10.
The part about Smith is in red.
Letter: Bennett a worthy, effective choice for mayor
In our upcoming mayoral election, we have a choice. City Councilor Chuck Bennett has the experience, expertise and the collaborative attitude to keep Salemites engaged, and to move positive things forward.
Carole Smith’s civic attitude has resulted in divisiveness and unproductive conflict. Because of this, she was removed from the downtown advisory board by the City Council.
The choice should be quite easy for us, as the contrast is clear. Chuck Bennett has proved himself respectful, worthy and effective. I served with him on City Council, and even when our views conflicted, he worked to find a solution all parties could live with to get things done.
Hmmmm. What DeHart said regarding Smith's removal from the Downtown Advisory Board (DAB) didn't fit with other things I've heard about this.
So I asked Carole Smith to tell me what happened from her point of view. Here's what she sent me:
Here is the back story on why I was removed from DAB.
On June 14, 2011, I had an appointment to speak to the Mayor [Anna Peterson) on concerns I had, but before I could open my mouth in the meeting the Mayor was shaking with anger and started shaking her finger in my face and telling me I had to find a way to vote with the rest of the people on the Downtown Advisory Board (DAB) or she would get rid of me.
This went on for 20 minutes and was very demeaning. When I asked if I could tell her my side of the story, the Mayor answered, “No, I have heard enough." After 20 minutes I finally said, “Nothing is being accomplished here so I think I will leave." The Mayor answered, “Yes, I think you should”.
Afterward, I thought about the fact that a Mayor has no right to tell a citizen on an advisory board how to vote, and to actually threaten them with removal was shocking.
I believe I have the right to vote for whatever I believe is best for my community. When I began to tell other people about this threat by the Mayor, I found others that had been treated the same way - and they were mostly women, including the then city councilor Sheryl Thomas.
I stayed on the Downtown Advisory Board for 1 1/2 years. Every meeting, the Mayor came and sat directly behind me. Right before the City moved to create a Parking Task Force to implement parking meters in the downtown, I was removed from DAB and the City fired the Salem Downtown Partnership.
Interesting timing, everyone who was against parking meters downtown was eliminated within 24 hours.
At meetings of the Downtown Advisory Board, I was respectful to always raise my hand before speaking and to make short comments and questions. Then I voted for what was best for my neighborhood. But what the Mayor was after is unanimous votes, not free thinkers and visionaries.
The Mayor claimed my questions and comments were divisive, and my explanations of how programs downtown worked in the past, or why policies were implemented, was met with “That’s the past, we do things differently now."
I believe a Mayor does NOT have the right to tell citizens how to vote, and my resulting commitment to continuing to represent the citizens in my community was met with my removal from the Downtown Advisory Board.
I believe my behavior is exactly what citizens need in a Mayor - someone who will stand up for them, to research all angles of the problem and find the best solutions, and not to be so insecure as to demand everyone vote unanimously.
And Chuck Bennett voted along with the Mayor, the only no vote was from Sheryl Thomas.
I am attaching the letter I wrote to City Council asking them not to remove me. Eric [Kittleson] was also in the room with me when the Mayor cut loose. You can ask him to verify what I have said. I sent him a copy also.
Below is the February 2013 letter to the City Council Carole refers to. It makes for interesting reading, especially compared with the following memo Mayor Peterson sent to the City Council asking for Smith's removal.
I favor Smith's version of her DAB dismissal, having observed Mayor Anna Peterson in action at numerous City Council meetings, and having heard similar stories about how Peterson dislikes people who disagree with the "party line" being promoted by herself and her right-wing City Council majority.
Yes, Carole Smith can be opinionated. And she pushes hard for what she believes is best for Salem. I see nothing wrong with this, and a lot right.
Better decisions are made when all voices are heard.
Over and over, I see a premature consensus being advocated at City Council meetings, which are chaired by Mayor Peterson. Those with an alternative point of view, whether citizens or city councilors, too often are ignored, marginalized, shunned.
Something to keep in mind when voting in the May 17 election. Chuck Bennett is a long-time city councilor who is Mayor Peterson's chosen replacement. Carole Smith is an outsider with fresh ideas.
I've reported. You decide.