Today the Salem Statesman Journal ran a surprisingly well-written editorial. Amazingly, because I'm a frequent critic of the paper, I found little to disagree with an analysis of last week's primary election, "5 lessons from City Council, other election races."
Little, though, doesn't mean nothing. Reading Lesson #5 caused some mental raised-eyebrows.
5. Unity beats disunity
If there is a political divide in Salem, it often is cast as progressives (i.e., liberals) versus business and specifically the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. That is only partially accurate.
The business community is not monolithic, whether in Salem or statewide. As we have noted previously, that lack of cohesion hampers business’ influence in the Oregon Capitol.
In Salem, business leaders may have spent their political capital in defeating the Salem-Keizer Transit payroll tax last fall, lessening their influence and participation this time around.
It is true that political pendulums swing back and forth. Differences of opinion make a community stronger and lead to better decisions. Good people can hold different philosophies of governance and have different community passions. But if a community is fractured — whether on ideological, economic or other lines — that is unhealthy.
Salem likes to bill itself as the collaboration capital — where people come together to achieve the common good. Some fence-mending — no, fence-tearing-down — seems in order after the election.
First, it isn't Salem that likes to use the term "collaboration capital." It is the current Mayor, Anna Peterson. She loves to say those words, as I wrote about last year in "Salem Mayor Anna Peterson unduly proud of her 'collaboration capital.'"
I counted up 11 times collaboration was used in Peterson's 2013 State of the City speech. Just about every time I hear her talk, she manages to squeeze in "collaboration capital."
What does this really mean, though?
...My view, which is shared by quite a few other people I've talked with, is that Peterson views collaboration as a warmer and fuzzier term than groupthink -- which really is what she is after.
Meaning, the Mayor highly values everybody agreeing with her. Any disagreement is seen as disharmony, disloyalty, dissension, body blows to the "let's all go along with what I want" pseudo-collaboration Peterson pushes for.
Peterson is a conservative. For quite a few years a clear majority on the City Council also have been conservatives.
Peterson and her right-wing City Council majority have been dismissive of citizen participation in civic affairs. Their idea of "outreach" is to extend a hand that holds a pre-formed policy decision and ask citizens to reach out and accept it. This has deeply irritated voters who are tired of being disrespected by the folks who run Salem's City Hall.
Thus the Statesman Journal editorial mostly was right-on in its #2 lesson, People are fed up with government, which ended with:
In addition, Progressive Salem fostered the perception that city hall does not listen to residents. That capitalized on voter discontent, regardless of whether that perception was accurate.
Well, if the Statesman Journal had been covering local politics with the same zeal it told us every detail about the Angry Owl, staff at the newspaper wouldn't have questioned whether the progressive view that "city hall does not listen to residents" was accurate.
It damn well is!
Thus it isn't progressives/liberals who need to get fired up about making Salem a true Collaboration Capital. It's the conservatives in this town who favor top-down, rather than bottom-up, decision making. I talked about this in my previous post:
So almost always there is a hidden agenda behind Mayor Peterson's "collaboration capital" promotional efforts. She isn't really trying to involve everybody in Salem -- just those who will get behind the groupthink aimed at feathering the nests of the already rich and powerful.
I mostly hang out with progressives. I know how progressives think. They/we are always saying stuff like, "We need to get more people involved," "Higher voter turnout is really important," "The public needs to weigh in on this."
Where was the Statesman Journal's call for more collaboration, more fence-tearing-down in this town, more coming together to achieve the common good, during the lengthy right-wing reign at City Hall -- Mayor's office and City Council seats?
Now that there is a 4-4 split between Progressives and Chamber of Commerce types on the Salem City Council, suddenly the SJ editorial board sees a need for more collaboration. Which could be construed to mean, the four progressives who will be on the council in 2017 need to lighten up on the agenda that they promised to pursue.
To which I say, NO FREAKING WAY.
The fence-mending and collaboration mostly needs to come from the conservatives at City Hall. This includes the Chamber of Commerce's and Anna Peterson's pick for Mayor, Chuck Bennett.
Here's some suggestions for Bennett and his Chamber buddies on the Collaboration Capital front:
-- How about giving progressive Carole Smith, the losing Mayoral candidate, a more-than-figurehead job to do in the Bennett administration? She is a 30 year downtown resident and business owner. Few people know more about downtown policies than Smith. Bennett claims to favor some of Smith's priorities, such as streetscaping downtown and making the Historic District more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. Make Smith chair or co-chair of a downtown committee that advises the City of Salem.
-- Support a community wide effort that builds on the recent generally excellent "Salem 2025" report. Many other cities have done this sort of thing: engaged citizens in discussions of what sort of long-range visions they have for their town, then getting buy-in from both private and public movers-and-shakers to achieve those goals. Listen to what people want, then make that happen. Pretty damn simple. And powerful. Hillsboro 2035 is doing this. Why not Salem?
-- Establish an Everybody Counts, so Everybody Votes project. (Name obviously subject to revision.) It's really tough to claim that Salem is a "Collaboration Capital" when voter turnout and citizen involvement in the lower income and Latino/minority areas of this town is much less than in the higher income and white areas. Do conservatives really want leadership at City Hall to be elected by everybody in Salem, or are they content with letting those more rich and more powerful dominate Salem politics? I can guarantee that progressives would get behind such an effort. How about you, conservatives?