In case you missed my Strange Up Salem Facebook post about Mayor Anna Peterson's irritated reaction to my oh-so-truthful testimony about the disgraceful 2013 U.S. Bank tree removals, here's a video of yesterday's City Council meeting.
(If you're a Facebooker, give Strange Up Salem a "like" if you want to get my marvelous observations about this town.)
My testimony during the public comment starts at about 32:25 minutes in and continues to about the 45 minute mark. (Click here to go to the You Tube video and have it start at that point. I only got three minutes to speak; questions and comments from City Councilors and the Mayor took up the rest of the time.
The final result of the agenda item regarding a proposed Urban Tree Commission, which I was testifying about, was great. I had to leave the meeting after I testified. Here's how a friend described the outcome in an email to me.
"Mayor Peterson was slowly beat back on her assertion that all tree decisions be made in-house without public input. A couple of councilors were concerned about how ‘messy’ it is to allow the public to be involved in these decisions [via an Urban Tree Commission] but councilor Chuck Bennett eventually convinced them - all of them - to agree to let the draft changes in Chapter 86 [the City's tree ordinance] go out to the public including neighborhood associations and other civic groups who are interested.
I have to say that Peter Fernandez, the Director of Public Works, did a great job of selling the part about the Urban Tree Commission comparing it to the City’s Traffic Commission as a model. Chuck indicated that this will be a long process culminating in a public hearing. I believe that the first group to get the presentation is the CANDO neighborhood association."
There's still some unfinished business between me and Mayor Peterson, though.
She chastised me for daring to say that the above-mentioned Peter Fernandez had made a backroom deal with the U.S. Bank president, Ryan Allbritton, to have the five trees cut down two years before the bank had even applied to have them removed.
This happens to be the truth. Meaning, it is a highly justified conclusion based upon irrefutable facts: public record documents that I got in the course of researching my tell-all report about the 2013 U.S. Bank tree debacle.
You can read the 18-page report via a link on my blog post, "Outrage: the true story of Salem's U.S. Bank tree killings."
I re-read it this morning, as it had been a while since I'd done this.
My unsurprising reaction was Damn, man, this is so well written, and makes so much sense, you deserve an Investigative Blogger Pulitizer Prize! (assuming such exists, which, sadly, I'm sure it doesn't).
Last night Mayor Peterson said that Peter Fernandez couldn't have made a backroom deal to have the five Japanese Zelkovas removed because this isn't the way they do things at City Hall. Well, the Mayor is wrong. I suspect she hasn't even read my report.
Because if she had, she would have found this on p. 16:
In 2010 the City’s Public Works Director made an informal back-room verbal deal with the bank president to cut down the trees that took precedence over the legal process for considering a 2012 application to remove the downtown street trees.
Again, that's a fact.
Mayor Peterson is entitled to her own opinions, but not to her own facts. Either she has willfully chosen to remain ignorant of what Peter Fernandez did, or she doesn't consider the backroom deal that occurred to be anything unusual.
I theorized in my report that the latter possibility could explain why so few City officials were outraged by the outrageous actions of Fernandez.
As noted in item (2) of this report, Allbritton and Fernandez had made some sort of verbal agreement back in 2010, several years before U.S. Bank submitted its 2012 application to remove the five trees. Allbritton reminded five of the eight city councilors of this verbal agreement, which should have rung unethical and illegal alarm bells in their minds.
Or maybe they weren’t disturbed by what Allbritton told them because this is how things are typically done at City Hall these days: work out deals with special interests behind the scenes, then go through the show of holding public hearings and issuing a formal decision.
If so, the lack of disturbance by the city councilors is what is truly disturbing, because it points to far-reaching systemic problems in how the City of Salem does the public’s business.
After Mayor Peterson did her chastising thing, I stood my ground.
Having the truth on my side gave me a firm foundation. I told her that I'd be pleased to debate her anytime, anywhere -- like before the Statesman Journal or Salem Weekly editorial boards, KMUZ community radio, a CCTV program, whatever.
She and other City officials need to face the facts about what happened in the U.S. Bank trees saga. Without acknowledging what transpired, as detailed in my "Outrage" report, it is going to be difficult to learn from history and stop the same mistakes from happening again.
Our so-called community newspaper, the Statesman Journal (which actually is a cog in the giant Gannett Corporation media machine), also is at fault for engaging in head-in-the-sand behavior on City tree issues.
A reporter wrote a planned front-page story about my "Outrage" report, but it was killed by the Statesman Journal executive editor, Michael Davis. I told that sad story in one of my Truth Bombs, "The Statesman Journal newspaper is failing Salem."
Ever the optimist, I'm hopeful that the Mayor's over-confident assertion last night that we don't do backroom deals at City Hall will make the Statesman Journal rethink its decision to ignore the story of the U.S. Bank trees that I told in my "Outrage" report.
I've presented persuasive factual evidence that high-ranking City staff actually do engage in backroom deals with Salem's rich and powerful. Mayor Peterson says they don't.
Sure seems like a great opportunity for Salem's journalistic community -- Statesman Journal, Salem Weekly, KMUZ, CCTV, maybe others -- to have a sit-down with me and the Mayor (or her designee) and talk about my report and her reaction to it.
You're dead, but not forgotten, my leafy friends. I fought to save you while you were still alive, and I'll continue to fight to prevent any more beautiful, healthy, large street trees in Salem from being killed needlessly -- especially not because a Public Works Director made a backroom deal with a bank president.