We humans are social creatures. With long memories. When we interact with someone we've known for a while, each person brings with them the entire history of that relationship.
As every couple knows, a simple present-moment utterance, "You forgot to take out the trash today," can set off an argument with roots far in the past. "Hey, I don't need more of your damn criticism and nagging!"
The same principle applies on larger scales, including how people feel about their city leaders, both elected and appointed. It's important for policy-makers to realize that citizen reaction to a discrete project is impacted by memories of how officials have handled previous issues.
Case in point: how the City of Salem is going about planning for a new police facility and Civic Center renovations that could cost taxpayers $80 million or more.
Yesterday I shared "My advice to Salem's 'Blue Ribbon' Police Facility Task Force."
Today I got a response from the Task Force chairman, T.J. Sullivan, in advance of the group's Thursday meeting -- when a draft report of the Task Force conclusions will be discussed. As you can see below (my comments on Sullivan's response are in blue), Sullivan disagreed with most of my points.
Which is fine. Finding middle ground starts by understanding where the edges of points of view are located.
I was struck, though, by Sullivan's initial paragraph. It got me to thinking, a good thing. My initial reaction (again, in blue below) led to these further thoughts along the lines of how I began this post.
Sullivan and other members of the Task Force, plus the Mayor and City Manager, should keep in mind that how Salemians react to this group's recommendations for the design and location of a new police facility will be affected by how citizens look upon previous actions by City Hall.
Like I said, this is human nature. We bring past interactions into present-day relatiionships. Our memories intrude into the here-and-now.
So good luck, Mr. Sullivan, in selling your policy proposals to a public who have observed in recent years how City of Salem officials have acted without much regard for the broad public interest, openness, fairness, and facts.
They will ask, "Why should we believe that planning for a new police facility hasn't been marked by the same flaws that have brought us previous debacles?"
Killing five beautiful, healthy, large downtown trees for no good reason, after city staff made a backroom deal with a bank president and ignored expert arborist advice, along with the tree ordinance.
Deciding to demolish Howard Hall, the last building that remains from the School for the Blind, at the request of Salem Hospital thereby reversing the Historic Landmarks Commission unanimous vote to preserve this historic building.
Wanting to make area residents pay a billion dollars for an unneeded and unwanted Third Bridge, even though improving the current bridges would bring even more benefits for vastly less money.
Trying to give part of Riverfront Park to a private developer, until fierce opposition from park and Salem Carousel lovers squashed this terrible idea -- which led to a better Pringle Square design thanks to citizens being skeptical of the City's plan.
Usurping the duties of a duly selected downtown organization, which helped foster a rebellion among downtown property owners that led to the demise of funds that paid for First Wednesday events.
What's going on here reminds me of the reality show, Survivor. (My wife and I are addicts, having watched each episode of every season).
Contestants can prosper for a while by doing the cheating, lying, and back-stabbing thing. The people they screw over get voted out in tribal councils, leaving those most skilled in manipulating. Eventually, though, the final three contestants have to face a jury of those who have been voted out.
Then things get really interesting. The power shifts to those screwed-over, away from the screwees.
Similarly, elected and appointed officials at the City of Salem are going to find out how the "jury" of Salem voters feel about them if (or when) a bond measure to pay for a new police facility and Civic Center renovations is put on the ballot.
As I said yesterday, my prediction is that a bond measure will be soundly defeated.
This likely would happen even if citizens weren't so pissed off at how City officials have treated them in the past. But memories of those previous screw-overs will affect their attitude toward giving City Hall $80 million or more of their money to play around with.
Here's what T.J. Sullivan wrote back to me, along with my reactions to him in blue.
Thanks for taking the time to write. I like how you start out by asking why we can’t get along, then make assumptions about people’s motives and judge them based on your assumptions.
Hey, we all do that. How else do human beings function? We aren't privy to the inner workings of other peoples' minds. We judge someone based on assumptions about his/her motives, based on observations and memories of past and present actions (speech, behavior, body language, etc. etc.) I judge that you are judging me, by the tone of your first two sentences.
During my time on Council there were always people saying that they weren’t listened to even after testifying, e-mail discussions, and discussions over the phone and in person. What I learned through the process is that people felt like they weren’t heard if their ideas weren’t incorporated into the process. The issue wasn’t that they weren’t listened to, it was that their ideas weren’t fully thought out and not the wisest course of action.
Well, as noted above, how do you know this is true? You are assuming this based on your judgements of those people. Which is fine. Just remember that it is a judgement. Maybe the people who spoke before the Salem City Council actually weren't listened to. Is it possible that you and other Coumcil members thought you were being open-minded, but really weren't? Sure it is.
As a group of citizens we have been meeting to study the issue of siting a police facility. We have been taking that information to the public to enlighten and gather feedback. We all should be incorporating that feedback into our decision making.
Huh? How has the Task Force been taking information from your previous meetings to the public? I'm not aware of this. I read the Statesman Journal. I read Salem Weekly. I follow numerous bloggers who write about Salem goings-on. I haven't heard of any outreach efforts by the Task Force. Are members just talking to relatives and friends?
At all of our meetings I have given time to every person in attendance to speak. We have done it at the end of our meetings so that the public can learn along with us. At one of our meetings, one of our members was insistent there were numerous ways to pay for this facility. As we went through the funding options he learned that his ideas would ruin the city’s credit rating, run afoul of State law, run afoul of the Urban Renewal laws, etc. The non-task force citizens in attendance gained insight that they would not have had at the beginning of the meeting.
This is a strange attitude toward public input. But it fits with the top-down philosophy of the current Mayor and City Manager. They, apparently like you, envision "public outreach" as reaching out to citizens with an already determined policy position, and then trying to sell the public on it. Me and many others, we see public input as primarily informing government officials and committees such as yours in a bottom-up fashion, not the reverse -- being informed/educated in a top-down way. I don't think citizens should have to sit through a two hour meeting before they can have a say.
The city could have done a much better job on educating the public regarding the siting of the police facility. Everyone acknowledges that.
It isn't a matter of education. It is a matter of doing the right thing. Thanks to me and others who have researched this question, the public knows how the decision to site the police facility at the Civic Center came about: a few officials at City Hall made that decision on their own years ago without any public involvement. Now it is way past time to open this up to broad, open, transparent community discussion, but once again this isn't happening. I've heard that the Task Force will leave it up to City staff to make that decision.
Some of your statements below are inaccurate as they relate to the siting process. There are many private citizens who have endorsed the location on the Civic Campus. There have been independent studies which have sited it there and the consultant who came in for the task force did not disagree that the Civic Campus was a viable location. They did agree that building a big box on bare ground with a sea of parking surrounding it was a cheaper build option. That option doesn’t include land acquisition costs or lost property tax costs and some on our task force have suggested that the latter item not be considered. The consultants were queried on the size of the envelope and they did indicate that no matter where the building was built, it would be a multi-story building. They suggested having the bottom two floors be bigger in size, dedicated to the sworn officers and direct support staff, in an effort to build in better camaraderie/sense of team.
No, my statements were accurate. Show me how they were wrong. Again, a few City officials decided a new police facility should be at the Civic Center. University of Oregon students were charged with planning for such. They weren't given the option of considering other locations. Then consultants were hired to refine the student's ideas. Lip service was given to looking at alternative locations after planning for a Civic Center location was well underway.
While all task force members did agree that a new police facility is in the best interests of Salem, some have stated that they are more committed to the location then they are to the need. I agree with your desire to see people willing to reach common ground and most of us who have been labeled as Civic Campus only, are fine with surrounding locations because ultimately we believe that the best thing for Salem is a new police facility.
Great. I just hope your definition of "surrounding" is expansive enough to take in all viable locations. Don't shut yourself in a box of downtown. Doing this will confirm that the Task Force deliberations are, like I said, just political cover for the Mayor and City Manager to keep on returning to their beloved over-priced Civic Center location, even in the face of persuasive arguments that other locations would be much better both for taxpayer pocketbooks and the police department.
As for the costs- people who I talk to, and I have been out to a wide cross section of folks in our community want something built right- not cheap. Marion Courthouse Square was built cheap- let’s not do that again. When I talk with folks from the community, I lay out all of the items that the prior proposal included:
New police facility
New Mirror Pond
New Customer Service Center
Existing City Hall buildings retrofitted
20 additional parking spaces added
HVAC system for City Hall buildings totally replaced
Prior Police space remodeled and off campus departments moved back to campus saving $500,000 a year in lease payments
Some in our community have locked in on the cost of $85,000,000 and proclaimed that we can’t afford it. When I ask those folks what that breaks down to in terms increased costs to median home value in Salem, they don’t know. When I explain to groups that it works out to about $5.00 per month- they wonder why we aren’t doing it already…
I believe your monthly cost figure is wrong, unless it is on a per capita basis. I've seen property tax increase figures that are higher than a $60 a year jump for a typical house. Regardless, if the police facility and Civic Center renovations can be done for tens of millions of dollars less, isn't this better, since Salem has so many other unmet needs?
My question to you is, where are you willing to bend on your opinion of the siting of the police facility?
Everywhere. I simply am waiting to be persuaded that the initial $80 million Civic Center proposal that City officials came up with without any meaningful community input or expert review is the best option for Salem. Arguments that there are cheaper and better alternatives ring true to me.