It was a strange Salem City Council meeting last night.
Several people told me, as I was leaving after testifying during the public comment period, that this was the first meeting they'd ever attended. They couldn't believe how disrespectful Mayor Anna Peterson was to citizens who came to speak their mind.
I told them, "I wasn't surprised, because I've seen the Mayor do her 'schoolmarm' act before. Sit down, shut up, stay in your seats. Just listen to what Teacher has to say. No backtalk!"
Repeatedly Mayor Peterson emphasized that she and other City officials are empowered to make decisions, and they are going to do just that.
Whether the decisions make any sense; reflect community values and desires; are based on solid facts; flow out of an open public involvement process... not important.
In the Brave New World of the Mayor, City Manager, and city councilors, Big Brother (oops, should say Big Sister) is in charge and Must Not Be Challenged.
To which I and others said last night (in so many words), screw that.
Mayor Peterson started off the council meeting by announcing some good news. City officials have given up on the crazy notion of converting the Salem Public Library into a police facility.
In my testimony about this I thanked the many people in the audience wearing red stickers saying "Hands Off the Library." It was obvious that the vociferous objections to moving the library to some other undisclosed location led to the Mayor and City Manager realizing this was a really poor idea.
The bad news, though, was that an almost equally poor idea has been resurrected: building a vastly over-priced police facility at the Civic Center (the current proposal is for a three story Police Palace next to and over Mirror Pond, with very expensive underground parking).
Download Council: Salem library will not become police station
I'd presciently anticipated this in a recent blog post.
Also, if a new police facility isn't going to go into the library building, this opens the door to City officials bringing back an almost equally bad idea: building an over-priced three story police palace with expensive underground parking next to (and over) the Civic Center's Mirror Pond. A new police facility should be built out in the community at much lower cost.
By "lower cost," we're talking big bucks -- in the neighborhood of $64 million, including bond financing costs (the City wants to spend about $128 million; Salem Community Vision considers the project can be done for aboout $64 million, half the price.)
So why aren't Mayor Peterson, City Manager Norris, and the eight city councilors eager to hear what citizens have to say about lower-cost alternatives to building a police facility at the Civic Center?
Based on what was said at last night's city council meeting, City officials consider they were elected to make decisions without considering the desires and values of the people they represent. Thus they aren't concerned that no public hearings about the best location for a new police facility have been held.
Well, I am. And I will continue to be.
Every time I heard the Mayor or a city councilor talk about themselves being the decision-makers, this strengthened my resolve to work to restore transparency, openness, and a genuine respect for public involvement back into City Hall.
These guys and gals are acting like they're the CEO and board of a private corporation, accountable to no one. Problem is, they're playing this private enterprise fantasy game with public funds -- taxpayer dollars.
More: those dollars don't exist yet. Approval for a $128 million bond measure, or whatever the final cost is, would have to be approved by Salem voters. What are the chances of a bond measure passing when citizens have had essentially zero input into the project they're expected to pay for?
Just about zero.
Top-down authoritarian management such as that practiced these days at City Hall has gone out of fashion even in the corporate world. It is hugely more out of place in city government where officials ostensibly are servants of the people.
Here's a video of last night's City Council meeting. I start to do my public comment thing at the 32:35 mark and depart the podium at 41:45.
Lastly, as a continuation to this post I'll copy in an email I sent to City officials after I got home from the meeting. I was bothered by repeated unsubstantiated comments that "bloggers," almost certainly referring to me, had been promulgating false information about the planned police facility, and how the Civic Center was selected as the site for it.
All of my posts on this subject are listed and clickable on the Salem Community Vision "Other Voices" page. City staff and elected officials know where to find my blog, believe me. None have pointed out any factual errors in what I've been writing about.
In my email message I sent to City officials last night, at one point I had a "put up or shut up" in it.
I decided to take that out in a gesture of good will. But I said the same thing in other ways. If you read on, you'll see that I've researched how the siting decision was made, concluding that City staff chose the Civic Center location without any public hearings or other community input.
Mayor Peterson, City Manager Norris, and councilors, it was a pleasure (really) to interact with you at tonight’s City Council meeting. We should do it more often (really). Honest conversing between people with differing viewpoints is what Salem — and the world — needs more of.
"was a staff recommendation from the Mayor, which was rubber-stamped by the Council in the process of approving the [council] subcommittee to oversee the Sustainable Cities Initiative, and then carried forward by the subcommittee.”