End of August. Time to relax. Lay back. Soak up the remaining summer sun. Let the living be easy.
But this isn't possible when you care about open government and the vitality of downtown Salem, and the City Council is up to its usual irritating closed-door, backroom, Machiavellian shenanigans.
I was all set to wash our deck today in preparation for re-staining it. However, I ended up emailing and phoning, trying to learn how a series of OMG's transpired at last night's City Council meeting.
I'll trace the Oh my God's backwards from the final one.
I didn't attend the meeting, for reasons discussed below, but watched pertinent parts of it via the invaluable CCTV You Tube video. The Statesman Journal also ran a story today, "Parking time limits to return to downtown Salem."
Download Parking time limits to return to downtown Salem
OMG! The City Council passed a motion to move forward with 3 hour time limits and other parking policy changes after the agenda shared with citizens said the only discussion on this subject would be informational, no council action required.
I'm not sure whether this simply violates the spirit of Oregon's open meeting law, or the actual letter of the law. But I do know that it is wrong for a government body to tell citizens "nothing will be done about this" before a meeting, and then pass a motion to do something.
Actually seven somethings. Described here: Download Motion regarding parking 8-25-14
Mayor Peterson knew there was a motion coming after the informational part of the parking policy discussion had come to an end. "Is there a motion, perhaps?" she said. Councilor Clem replied, "Yes, you should have copies, as does the Statesman Journal."
So the City Council knew in advance that what citizens were told in the agenda was wrong.
The council was going to use a late August meeting to initiate changes to Salem's downtown parking policy with no advance notice to people who would have wanted to say something about the subject.
I didn't go to the council meeting because I'd read the agenda and saw that the staff report on this issue didn't include any recommendations. Plus, an advance Statesman Journal story had said:
Download Free, unlimited parking clogs downtown district
Salem City Council at today’s meeting will review a consultant’s study and staff report on parking trends. No action by the council is expected at today’s meeting, but the reports will likely prompt further discussions.
OMG! It sure looks like some people did know the City Council was going to act on reinstating parking time limits, because they came all organized with recommendations that echoed the motion passed unanimously by councilors.
The "they" in the OMG above were Jim Vu, chair of a self-organized group of downtown business and property owners who have been meeting to discuss parking issues, and Dino Venti, a member of the group. I attended the last meeting of the group.
I blogged about it in "How to solve downtown Salem's parking problem." I'm pretty sure the meeting I attended was the last one held by the group before Vu and Venti spoke during the opening public comment period.
At that meeting, little or nothing was said about reinstating a 3 hour time limit. The only clear consensus among the group, Vu said at the time, was that the City needed to do a better "carrot and stick" job enforcing the ban on employees using onstreet parking spaces.
Well, something changed after that meeting, because Venti submitted a petition signed by 30 or so downtown business owners calling for the council to make five policy changes, including a 3 hour parking limit.
Download Statement for the 8-25-14 Salem City Council Meeting
lt's important to note that the petition isn't a report of the group.
The petition was emailed to members of the parking group, who were asked to sign it by Vu and Venti. I don't know who wrote up the five recommendations. All I am pretty sure of is that the parking group didn't vote on, or approve, the recommendations as a body.
So 30 downtown business owners called for a 3 hour time limit. Previously, 9,000 citizens and over 50 downtown business owners had supported an initiative petition to ban downtown parking meters and do away with time limits -- which the City Council agreed to do in 2013.
So here the City Council is not even a year later, voting to undo what it recently did, this time because a few dozen business owners who favor time limits came to speak at a council meeting that other citizens didn't attend because they weren't aware that any action would be taken at it.
Pretty damn sneaky, City officials.
Let people who favor time limits know what you're up to; keep the rest of the citizenry in the dark. Hey, how many people are going to come to a council meeting on a hot day at the end of summer just for the fun of it?
Again, this is no way for public officials to behave.
But it is par for the course for the Salem City Council. What Mayor Peterson likes to call "consensus" is only listening to people who agree with her. It's like me asking "Who is the best blogger in Salem?" and getting a clear consensus: Brian Hines!
Which could have something to do with the fact that I'm the only one who was asked that question.
OMG! The parking group organized by Jim Vu (and Doug/Gayle Doty, I believe) excluded the leaders of the Stop Parking Meters Downtown initiative drive which, as noted above, gathered 9,000 signatures from Salem-area residents to stop the ill-considered meter plan being pushed by City officials.
This strikes me as so freaking crazy, I can hardly believe it.
How can a group of downtown business owners that's discussing parking policies exclude two downtown business owners who led the successful petition drive that caused the City Council to change course about installing parking meters?
Hard to believe, but true. Carole Smith (owner of Grand Theatre) and Stephen Perkins (owner of Cascade Bakery) were invited to attend only one meeting of the parking group -- which I also attended, having invited myself.
They don't agree with much, or most, of the recommendations presented by Vu and Venti. So when Mayor Peterson told Vu and Venti, "We appreciate the unity you're showing," I felt like throwing up on the MacBook Pro laptop I was watching the CCTV video on.
(Note to self: get a cheap tablet to view City Council meetings.)
You know, it's easy to manufacture unreal unity when the only people you invite to meetings are picked because they agree with a predetermined policy position. It seems clear to me that Vu and Venti, along with the Doty's, have been getting along great with City officials because they're telling them what they want to hear:
Virtually all downtown business owners want 3 hour time limits.
Now, this may be true. Or it may not be.
We don't know, because so far only a self-selected group of business owners has taken part in discussions about downtown parking policies. Unfortunately, it really doesn't matter what other people tell the City Council now, because, to not coin a phrase, "The fix is in."
A 3 hour time limit is going to be approved.
This will have little, if any, effect on the main problem the parking group discussed at the meeting I attended: employees using free onstreet parking while they're working rather than paying for parking in the garages.
Before, lots of employees moved their cars every 2 hours to a different block. Now, they'll find it easier, only having to move their cars every 3 hours.
I'm all for making changes to downtown parking policies. But as I told the parking group in a three page letter I left with them, a lack of trust is the biggest problem facing downtown, not a lack of parking spaces.
Download Parking thoughts 8-11-14
What Salem's Mayor, City Manager, and councilors fail to realize is that we human beings are very much open to change. But change has to be handled in the right way.
Here's a quote from my new favorite book, "The Systems View of Life."
In reality, people do not resist change: they resist having change imposed on them.
Being alive, individuals and their communities are stable and subject to change and development, but their natural change processes are very different from the organizational changes designed by "re-engineering" experts and mandated from the top.
Salem's city government is exceedingly top-down biased. Citizen input is welcomed only when it agrees with what City officials already have decided to do.
This was evident at last night's city council meeting, where Mayor Peterson and councilors rapturously welcomed those who spoke in favor of parking time limits, while ignoring those who said things are fine as they are.
Unfortunately, the self-selected downtown parking group seems to be falling into the same trap of only listening to those who agree with them. This is unhealthy for Salem.
I've left messages with Jim Vu and Dino Venti, asking to talk with them about how the five recommendations they gave to the City Council were arrived at, and by whom. When I learn more about this, I'll share it in another blog post.
I just hope I don't get another OMG! sensation.
Update: I need to briefly mention another OMG! I had while watching the council meeting video. Councillor Bennett said that the council "had to adopt" the language of the initiative petition back in 2013 even though banning parking meters and time limits was a horrible idea.
This is utterly, completely, blatantly false.
How could Councilor Bennett say this? Under the law, the City Council could have rejected the initiative petition and allowed it to go to a vote of the people in May 2014, as the sponsors of the initiative had requested.
Why City officials spout stuff that is obviously untrue is beyond me. I guess they figure that most of the people hearing them aren't paying attention to the falsities, or don't follow issues closely enough to know the difference between true and false.
Here's what the Stop Parking Meters Downtown folks presciently said in 2013:
The City Council has until their Oct 14th meeting to decide whether or not to voluntarily adopt the petition. Council adoption would undermine the democratic process and allow Council to change anything.
If you do not want the City Council to adopt the petition – ask them to put it on the ballot in May. Here are some talking points if you want to use them:
If Salem City council adopts our petition, it will NOT go on the ballot in May for us to vote on. If council voluntarily adopts the petition, they can vote to change it whenever they want, for whatever reason they want. If this goes to a vote of the people, history shows us – no council will touch it for years. We want, and need, that long-term protection.