I moved to Salem, Oregon in 1977 from Raleigh Hills, a Portland suburb. Right away I liked Salem's small town feel, even though it had quite a few big town amenities.
This still is a big plus for Salem. Or, should be.
Because some old-fashioned small town values are slipping away under the current City of Salem leadership: Mayor Anna Peterson, City Manager Linda Norris, Public Works Director Peter Fernandez, and city councillors Chuck Bennett, Laura Tesler, Brad Nanke, Rich Clausen, Diana Dickey, Sheryl Thomas, Warren Bednarz, and Dan Clem.
Divisiveness rules. Citizen participation in important policy decisions is viewed as a nuisance rather than a necessity. Deliberations by City of Salem officials are made with little openness and much secretiveness.
A few days ago I asked, "Will Salem City Council spend $400 million with no public hearing?" Astoundingly, this is what Peter Fernandez is recommending. Approve a new Third Bridge design that displaces dozens of residences and businesses without giving people a chance to express their opinion on it.
I've also blogged about how the City of Salem ballooned a University of Oregon student project into a $70 - 90 million over-stuffed Civic Center renovation proposal. Local experts say that at least $40 million could be saved by taking a smarter approach to earthquake-proofing the Civic Center and building a new Police Facility.
Two of those experts are Gene Pfeifer and Geoffrey James. They were instrumental in finding a way to repair Courthouse Square at a much lower cost than Marion County was planning to spend.
Now Pfeifer and James have helped found Salem Community Vision, which I've become involved with.
After attending three Salem Community Vision meetings I'm optimistic about the potential of this citizen group. Its goal is to involve the entire Salem community in creating a vision of what we want our town to be.
This, of course, is what City of Salem officials should be doing themselves. But the current administration at City Hall isn't big on listening to citizens. They're much better at talking, then turning a deaf ear when they get a response that doesn't fit with their preconceived idea of what should be done.
Not good. We need to restore some small-town values to how Salem is governed.
Get people together and ask, "What do you want? What do you think? What sort of town do you want Salem to be?" Listen to everybody. Be neighborly. Consider all ideas, all alternatives, all suggestions. Respect facts; honor diverse values; be happy to say "Hey, you're right and I'm wrong" when this needs saying.
I grew up in a small unincorporated town of about 900 people. Currently I live in a rural south Salem community of about 300 people, where I've served as the neighborhood organization's secretary for over twenty years.
So I am familiar with really small-town values. People treat each other honestly and openly without "political" game-playing. It doesn't matter if you're liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, or none of the above.
By and large (there are always exceptions), small-town folks are problem-focused. They want to make things better, not score personal or ideological points. Everybody is treated the same, no matter their job, income, or whatever. They make a dollar go as far as possible, being conservative in the sense of conserving.
Salem Community Vision is out to restore that sort of good sense to our city.
Let's bring back a feeling of "we're all in this together." Our public servants need to be reminded of what it means to serve the public, rather than dictate to the public.
If you haven't already, give Salem Community Vision a Facebook "like." Especially if you like small-town values.