Today's front page story in the Salem Statesman Journal is headlined, "Courthouse Square's Red Flags." Subtitle: Project's failures extend beyond bad engineering
Yeah, no kidding.
The county commissioners in office when construction problems first started to become apparent looked the other way, even though the project manager recommended taking action.
When cracks appeared at the tops of columns during construction of Courthouse Square in 2000, the defects were taken seriously by Melvin Mark Development Co., a Portland firm hired as a project manager.
The cracks were in critical locations beneath the bus mall at Courthouse Square. Melvin Mark wanted to be "absolutely certain the structural integrity of the bus mall has not been, and will not be, compromised," the company stated in a Feb. 18, 2000, letter to the project's architect.
Melvin Mark recommended getting a second engineering opinion about the cracks. Marion County and transit district officials agreed, according to a February letter from Melvin Mark to Arbuckle Costic Architects.
That second opinion was never received. In fact, it was never even sought.
Instead, Mike Hayford, the structural engineer who designed Courthouse Square, was summoned by county and transit officials. He proclaimed in a July 11, 2000, letter that the cracks were "cosmetic in nature and need only be patched and or epoxy-injected."
Ten years after Hayford's assurances, city building and safety officials ordered the evacuation of the Courthouse Square office building and the closure of the adjoining bus mall. Engineers now say the cracks were a symptom of structural problems that a shot of epoxy didn't cure.
How could this happen? How could Courthouse Square, a modern structure built by professionals, simply begin to collapse?
Excellent questions by the reporter who wrote the story, Michael Rose. Unfortunately, apparently he didn't ask them of Patti Milne, a Republican Marion County Commissioner who is still in office.
Milne became a county commissioner in January 1999, so she was one of the decision-makers who decided to ignore the warning signs pointed out by the Melvin Mark firm.
Now the $34 million building might not be repairable, and about $20 million still is owed on it, with only a comparative pittance ($1.8 million) likely recoverable from insurance.
Yet Milne and others directly involved at the time are running away from their responsibility for letting Courthouse Square problems get more and more serious, while turning a blind eye to them.
Reporter Rose should have asked Milne why, after she had been in office for more than a year, as county commissioner she didn't follow up on the Melvin Mark recommendation to get a second engineering opinion about the concrete cracks.
Instead, Milne trusted the guy who designed Courthouse Square. Not surprisingly, he didn't find any big problems with his work. Milne believed him. Eleven years later, we now learn this was a $34 million mistake.
Taxpayers and voters should expect elected officials to be honest, straightforward, and accountable. Commissioner Milne possesses none of these qualities, as shown by a quote in today's story.
Marion County Commissioner Patti Milne, who first took office in January 1999, said decisions on contracts and the final go-ahead on Courthouse Square were made prior to her taking a seat on the commission."I don't believe I was responsible for what happened because there could have been decisions made I was not aware of," Milne said.
What a cop out. Yes, Ms. Milne, you are responsible for what happened.
What happened is that serious problems with concrete problems became apparent in February 2000. You were a county commissioner then. These problems were ignored by you and other county officials, even though Marion County was the owner of Courthouse Square, along with the transit district.
Nobody expects public officials to be perfect. It'd be fine for Milne to say, "I screwed up. I should have done my job better. I'm sorry."
That'd be courageous, forthright, truthful. Instead, we get ridiculous excuses: "I didn't approve the construction plans, so I'm not responsible for what might be a total loss on Courthouse Square."
Yes, you are.
You ignored obvious early warning signs that the building hadn't been constructed properly. Those problems continued to be ignored by you and your fellow Republican commissioners. They grew worse.
Patti Milne made a $34 million mistake. She should acknowledge it.