Here's some juicy City of Salem gossip I heard today which has a ring of truth -- because it fits with the habitual secretive modus operandi of the Mayor and her right-wing city council majority:
Do the public's business as far outside of public view as possible, because that way it's easier for special interests like the Chamber of Commerce to wield their influence on Salem's local politicians.
What I was told by a usually reliable source is that City officials are hellbent to get local government approvals for the billion dollar Third Bridge boondoggle as far along as possible before January 2017, when three newly elected Salem city councilors take office who are expected to oppose this massive waste of taxpayer money.
(Note: the link above refers to a 2014 blog post where I talked about a $500 million boondoggle; with financing costs included the cost roughly doubles, so now I like to refer to a billion dollar boondoggle.)
Reportedly, in late September the Salem City Council will have a first reading of an ordinance to add the Third Bridge, a.k.a. the Salem River Crossing, to the local Comprehensive Plan and Transportation Systems Plan. A second reading would occur in early December, conveniently timed to prevent the new city councilors from weighing in on this highly controversial project when they take office in January.
Sometime before the second reading, a joint public hearing with the Keizer City Council would be held, since both Salem and Keizer have to approve this Bridge That Hopefully is Going Nowhere. I was told that the hearing will be on a Wednesday night in the 50+ Senior Center in north Salem, likely with no CCTV to make it tough for citizens to learn what's happening.
Maybe you're thinking, "Shouldn't a billion dollar bridge, the most expensive public works project in Salem history, be better publicized by City officials, and have more public hearings before a vote is taken on making the bridge part of the Comprehensive and Transportation System plans?"
To which I and other opponents of the Third Bridge answer, YES!
But like I said, the goal of Mayor Anna Peterson and her big-spending city council majority is to get approvals for the bridge voted on with as little citizen involvement as possible. This helps explain why, as reported by the Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger earlier this month, a notice about a September 19 Salem City Council work session on the Third Bridge suddenly appeared.
Then suddenly disappeared.
Looks like someone at City Hall put the brakes on open discussion of the billion dollar boondoggle. My source told me that now city councilors are supposed to meet privately one-on-one with Transportation Planning Manager Julie Warncke.
This is no way to run city government. At least, if the goal is have an open, transparent, honest, responsive city government that cares about public involvement and citizen participation.
Pretty clearly, this hasn't been the goal of Salem's Mayor and city council majority since the Chamber of Commerce and other special interests were able to take control of City Hall quite a few years ago.
Thankfully, the times are a'changing.
This year's election of three progressive city councilors means that the balance of power will shift considerably in January 2017. Unfortunately, the incoming Mayor, Chuck Bennett, is a Third Bridge supporter, as are a majority of the current city councilors. They face a tough vote on making the Salem River Crossing part of the above-mentioned plans.
The current funding plan for the Third Bridge says that little state and federal money will be available. Most of the billion dollars is slated to come out of local taxpayer pockets: a local gas tax, a local increase in vehicle registration fees, and at least a $1.50 toll each way on the two current bridges and the Third Bridge.
So citizens are going to be watching closely to see how the five members of the Salem Council up for election in 2018 vote later this year. Mayor Chuck Bennett and city councilors Steve McCoid, Jim Lewis, Daniel Benjamin, and Tom Andersen will have to answer for their vote come election time.
Campaigning on a platform of "I voted for a $1.50 toll each way to cross the Willamette River, even though a billion dollar Third Bridge isn't needed" doesn't sound like a winning strategy to me.
Thus I see this issue as a win-win for those of us who want to see Salem become a 21st century city, not one mired in outdated urban planning notions that promote sprawl and a pave-it-over mentality.
Either the current City Council will come to its senses and vote against the Third Bridge later this year (unlikely, but possible), or the councilors who go on record as approving a unnecessary near-billion dollar tax increase on local citizens will find it considerably tougher to be re-elected in 2018.
(Give the No 3rd Bridge Facebook page a "like" to stay in touch with efforts to stop this boondoggle.)