Officials at the City of Salem are engaged in a strategic planning process that involves, in part, learning what sort of place people want our town to become. It's been criticized by the Breakfast on Bikes blogger in "City Strategic Planning Process too Opaque, Open House on 31st."
Because of the winter storm earlier this month, the City's Open House on a strategic planning process was postponed until January 31st.
At least from here the whole thing has seemed a little strange. If Council authorized it, we all missed it. If Council didn't authorize it, it's being funded by some secret slush fund! It probably originates in the City Manager's office rather than from Council. That doesn't mean it's a bad thing, but it's just a little odd. Usually these kinds of things go before Council first.
Significantly, notes from the November SCAN meeting appear to confirm its origin in the City Manager's office:
Councilor Andersen commented on three items of interest 1) City Manager Steve Powers has launched a strategic planning initiative for the City...
So why is it such a secret?
The project's description, too, has seemed murky, with a lesser instance of word salad:
The City of Salem is undertaking a strategic plan to articulate the mission, vision, values, and goals for the organization to help the City sustain delivery of core services as the community and the organization grow and change.
Anyway, they've conducted some of the proverbial "stakeholder interviews" and also a phone survey.
Ah, yes, that wonderfully perplexing term, stakeholder. The dictionary has a couple of definitions that make sense in this context: one that has a stake in an enterprise; one who is involved in or affected by a course of action.
So seemingly every Salem resident and property owner, along with every person who works in or regularly visits Salem, is a stakeholder in the City's strategic planning process.
One would think that this would be an opportunity for City officials to hear from people who usually don't have much of a voice in civic affairs.
Well, anyone who thinks like that would be wrong.
Because it turns out that of the 48 Stakeholder Interviews scheduled to be conducted, I counted up only 9 -- nine! -- that weren't interviews with the Mayor, current and incoming city councilors, top City management, people affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce, and people affiliated with City of Salem committees/advisory groups.
Thus only 19% of the supposed "stakeholders" could be generously considered as ordinary citizens. I say generously, because even most of those nine arguably are part of the power structure in this town.
My evidence for this is based on a Stakeholder Interview Roster obtained via a request to City staff by a fellow member of the Salem Community Vision steering committee, Jim Scheppke.
Download Interview Roster - 10_6_16 FINAL
Jim was struck by how many of the 29 "community group leaders" had connections with the Salem Chamber of Commerce. He researched what those connections were and shared the resulting document with me. I then did my own Googling, which led to some editing of Jim's work.
Along with the clear Chamber of Commerce connections, 10 out of 29, I found that 10 other community stakeholders had ties with City committees/advisory groups. Here's my analysis in PDF and JPEG forms (click to enlarge the photos).
Download Citizen stakeholders PDF
Chamber types are shown in red: City of Salem committee types are shown in purple. There's some overlap of course. Some of the stakeholders could be put in both groups.
It should be noted that not all of these people ended up being interviewed. Susann Kaltwasser, for example, is another member of the Salem Community Vision steering committee. Susann said she responded four times to an interview request, but nobody from the City got back to her.
I'm bothered by the mostly insular "good old boy/girl" approach to choosing these community stakeholders. Like I said, everybody in Salem has a stake in how our city grows, evolves, changes, addresses its problems.
Asking members of the Powers That Be strategic planning questions is almost certainly going to lead to answers pointing to a continuation of their privileged position. Yet this is what City officials have done.
The Stakeholder Interview Roster document says this. I've boldfaced some passages for emphasis.
For this initial stakeholder interview session, we are working with as many as 48 interview slots over two days (October 18, 19 and 20). “Stakeholders” means “people judged to be able to represent the interests and opinions of groups with a specific interest in the project.” Our goal is to achieve a balanced and broad range of community perspectives through this limited engagement, with an emphasis on the community’s diversity (gender, age, ethnicity; political affiliation; and a mix of business and neighborhood voices). Those who may be unable to participate in this initial session can receive focused invitations to future engagement opportunities.
Well, I don't think City officials achieved that goal.
When 34% of the community leader interviews are of Chamber of Commerce types, and another 34% are of people involved with City of Salem committees/advisory groups, it's pretty damn clear that those City officials weren't looking for fresh perspectives.
More of the same is going to lead to more of the same. Somehow, someday, this town has to break out of its tired old ways of doing things, because those ways aren't working.
Understand: I'm hopeful that this strategic planning process is going to produce some positive results. I'm going to take part in the January 31 Open House. I'll encourage others to do the same.
But I agree with the Breakfast on Bikes blogger. What should be an open, inclusive, transparent planning process sure seems anything but at this point.
[Update: a commenter on this post noted that a scientific survey of residents also was to be done as part of the strategic planning process. Here's a PDF file of the December 2016 DHM Research survey report. I haven't looked closely at it yet.]
Download EcoNW City of Salem Community Priorities--00481--Report