I guess it was fortunate that I picked up one of my favorite Taoist books this morning and read a few pages from it before I did my meditating thing.
In Raymond Smullyan's "The Tao is Silent" he shares a brief poem he wrote:
The fiddler plays.
Though no one listens,
The fiddler plays.
Exactly how I feel whenever I testify at a City of Salem meeting. Usually I"m fine with saying how I feel about some subject, not expecting that anyone else will resonate with my message.
But tonight was different. I did have some expectations.
Especially after a fellow member of the Salem Community Vision steering committee, Susann Kaltwasser, preceded me to the public comment table -- where we had three minutes to speak.
Susann did a good job explaining the SCV position on a new Salem police facility and seismically retrofitting City Hall and the Library so many lives won't be lost when the Big One earthquake hits. She was polite and mild-mannered. Quite a few task force members asked her questions and listened to her extensive answers.
Me... I got a very different reaction. Probably because I wasn't polite or mild-mannered. Why? Because I didn't feel like it.
In my three minutes I ripped on the task force's decision to forego the seismic improvements that previously were part of the City's $80 million proposal for a new police facility and Civic Center renovations.
I echoed the themes in my Open Letter to the Police Facility Task Force.
But now I could look them in their eyes and rather emotionally state my feeling that allowing City Hall and the Library to collapse in a major earthquake, while moving the Police Department into a spiffy new earthquake-safe building, was morally reprehensible.
Especially since the reason the task force members have whiffed on calling for seismic retrofitting is this: they know that an $80 million bond won't be approved by voters. But instead of preserving the $15 million earmarked for earthquake safety, they want to have an extra-large, over-priced new police facility instead.
Here's how I put it in my remarks, roughly:
Imagine, task force members, that you're sitting in the new police facility, which might end up being so close to the Civic Center you can see City Hall and the Library from a third floor window. You're chatting with police department staff, congratulating yourselves on what a great police facility they now have.
When you feel a rumble. It isn't a large truck going by. It's the Big One earthquake, a quake that will far exceed the power of the recent Nepal earthquake.
Fortunately, you're in a building that will keep on standing, since the new police facility was built to modern seismic standards. But as you look out the window, you see City Hall and the Library collapsing. You know that many people will die, since it is 3 pm on a weekday.
How will you feel when you have time to ponder that women, children, and other people at City Hall and the Library have died because you voted to build a super-expensive police facility, using money that could have gone to earthquake-proof the Civic Center?
Would you feel good about your choice? Was it worth it to spend an extra $15 million on a police facility that could have been built for that much less and still have been perfectly adequate?
If seeing City Hall and the Library collapse in ruins, with many people trapped inside would bother you, you need to vote tonight to make seismic retrofitting a must-do priority -- along with a lower-priced adequate police facility.
My remarks got this much outward response from the task force members: zero. So I dutifully stood up and went back to my chair.
As the meeting went on, it became clear that virtually all of the task force members were utterly uninterested in doing what Salem Community Vision had called on them to do: present a single bond measure for voters that totals no more than $50 million: $30 million for a new police facility, and $20 million for seismic retrofitting and some other renovations to the Civic Center.
However, Geoff James, the Salem Community Vision representative on the task force did submit two alternative motions along those lines. One failed for lack of a second; the other was seconded only for purposes of some very brief discussion. Both got only one vote: Geoff's.
Even more disturbingly, after losing those votes James ended up voting for a motion by Kasia Quillinan that didn't include a recommendation for seismic upgrades to the Civic Center. I have no idea why Geoff did this, since previously he had indicated that he would oppose any task force recommendations that didn't include seismic retrofitting.
Maybe other people in the room tonight cared as much as I did about saving lives of people at City Hall and the Library when the Big One hits.
But there was no indication of this.
So I felt like a lone voice for what seems to me something perfectly reasonable: keep the cost of a new police facility low enough so a bond measure can be passed that includes money for earthquake-proofing City Hall and the Library.
The "yes" vote of James enables the Mayor to say that there was a unanimous recommendation by the task force to forego seismic upgrades to the Civic Center. She clearly was fine with this.
The Mayor. And everybody else. Was. Fine. With. Letting. People. Die. At City Hall. And the Library. When the Big One Hits.
Freaking amazing. Plus. Depressing.
The Mayor also got quite testy when talk turned to recommending that a new police facility not be sited on Civic Center property. Obviously this is still her big dream. I always suspected that the task force was intended to just provide cover for the Mayor continuing on with a plan to build a three-story police facility next to and over Mirror Pond at the Civic Center.
That game is still being played, for sure.
The only difference is that previously earthquake-proofing City Hall and the Library was part of the proposed project package. Now it looks like that $15 million is going to disappear, so a police facility bond has a better chance of being approved by voters.
Like I said a bit over a week ago, a new police facility could cost many lives.
Be sure to remember this when a police facility bond appears on a Salem ballot. Vote "no" to send a message that the lives of children at the Library are more important than paying for an over-priced police facility that could be built for a lot less.
Maybe I'll be the only person in Salem who sings that song. No matter. I'm getting used to solos.