It deeply bothers me when "public servants" are pleased to suck up taxpayer money for their often-lofty salaries, yet fail miserably at their core job -- choosing to lord it over the people they should be serving.
Case in point: Salem (Oregon) City Manager Linda Norris.
A recent Statesman Journal story, "Will latest downtown group succeed?," only tells part of the sorry tale of how Norris did away with the existing downtown association so she could personally rule over how funds provided by businesses are spent.
Business booster groups for merchants have a rocky history in this city, but Salem City Manager Linda Norris has personally taken on the task of marketing downtown.
For about nine months, Norris has overseen marketing and beautification plans with advice from her hand-picked City Manager Downtown Steering Committee. The 16-member group, includes Norris, Urban Development Department Director John Wales and representatives of business interests.
Norris, with her advisory group, determines the use of about $313,000 in funds collected from property owners in downtown’s Economic Improvement District.
...Like its predecessor Go Downtown, Salem Downtown Partnership was contracted by the city to administer the EID. Funds in the EID’s budget can be used for marketing and promotion, public events, maintaining public spaces and other economic improvement activities.
In February, Norris terminated the city’s contract with Salem Downtown Partnership, citing concerns about the partnership’s competence.
Norris, herself, took over the role as EID Administrator.
The SJ story by Michael Rose reveals that City Manager Exalted Emperor Linda Norris rules without the usual open government transparency demanded by Oregon's public records law.
After taking control of the EID money contributed by downtown property owners, Norris doesn't allow anyone to know what is going on with her and the "hand-picked" yes-people she has chosen to be her lackeys.
Unlike city advisory boards and commissions, the City Manager Downtown Steering Committee doesn’t need to publicize its meetings or keep meeting minutes.
Assistant City Attorney Daniel Atchison stated in an email that the steering committee “is not subject to public meetings law, because it was selected by Ms. Norris to confer with her, as the City Manager.”
The Statesman Journal asked the city for “meeting minutes” and was informed that none were available.
This is amazing. Amazingly disturbing.
The top non-elected city official dissolves a duly organized downtown organization so she can take control of the group's money. Then chooses to keep records of her Imperial Pronouncements secret. I can't believe this would be tolerated even in Tony Soprano's New Jersey, much less in supposedly squeaky-clean Oregon.
A Statesman Journal poll on the subject found that 87% wanted Norris to be transparent in her operations. I bet the same percentage would want her to act like a public servant rather than a public overlord.
What's additionally bothersome is that the City Councillor who represents downtown, Chuck Bennett, is reported to have aided and abetted Linda Norris' unseemly takeover of the Economic Improvement District funds.
Here's how the coup went down, according to the Salem Cherry Pits and Petals blog:
In the fall of 2011, the City of Salem advertised for a downtown organization. After a lengthy process, the City awarded the contract to the Salem Downtown Partnership (SDP).
After the contract was awarded, the city asked the downtown property owners to renew the EID assessment for an additional 3 years with SDP being the contract provider. The EID was renewed and the SDP received it’s first quarter funding in February 2012.
One year later, at the February 11, 2013 City Council meeting, councilor Chuck Bennett made a motion to change the EID ordinance to allow the City to take control of the EID money.
Immediately after the February Council meeting, the City Manager terminated the Salem Downtown Partnership’s contract. There was no survey to assess how satisfied the downtown community was with the SDP and it’s programs, no violation of the contract, and no warning the city was in any way unhappy with the SDP. Needless to say, the board was stunned.
The SDP board hired a local attorney to help them better understand the city’s desire to terminate a seeming successful organization. The resulting report showed the most likely reason for the termination was the City wanted to eliminate any organized opposition to the installation of parking meters downtown. In fact, the City used the same tactic in 2005, when it terminated the Salem Downtown Association, just prior to implementing 2 hour parking downtown.
...The EID was renewed with the understanding an independent organization, voted in by the downtown community, would be receiving the EID funds. But the City changed the language after the election to allow the City to take the money. This isn’t what the downtown property owners voted to support. This is a violation of public trust.
Now the City Manager has hand-selected a few individuals to determine which programs will continue to receive EID funding. The meeting dates/times are not posted, no agendas are available, and who serves on the committee is not publicly known.
Because comments on Statesman Journal stories disappear when a story is archived, I'll copy in the comments on "Will latest downtown group succeed?" to preserve them for posterity.
Hopefully future Salemians will marvel at the dictatorial City government that faded away after a brief attempt to rule over citizens without genuinely serving them.
I'll share the comments as they appear on the SJ web page. Mine just happens to be first.
This story captures what is so wrong with the City of Salem these days: anally obsessed with secretive governmental control while being distrustful of citizen involvement.
Bizarre -- that the highest-ranking paid city official is filling the role of a "promotions" staffer, just because she can't stand anyone disagreeing with her. Norris has essentially taken the downtown dollars and put them under her sole control.
Time for a revolt, downtown businesses.
I don't understand how you can put up with this disrespect from City of Salem officialdom. They ignored your input when all the planning for downtown parking meters went on. Fortunately, that ill-considered plan was thwarted by 9,000 Salem area residents signing a "no way" citizen initiative.
Now, a downtown association needs to be formed that is truly controlled by, and responsive to, the businesses who contribute the money for it. No taxation without representation. (Where have I heard that before?)
City Manager, you have over $500 millilon in your annual budget - really - you have to come take control of our measly $275,000? You can't stand the throught that a democratically elected, independent group has different ideas and goals than you so you have to take our money? Sorry, City Manager, your not our choice to run retail promotions. Why don't you spend your time supervising your 1,200 employees and your $500 M budget. That would be far more appropriate.
Additionally I fail to see the effectiveness of "Green Team" picking up cigarettes and trash ONE piece at a time when an old fashion broom would clean a larger area in a fraction of the time....I am sure they are paid by the hour, so perhaps slower is better......but I feel it is inefficient.