I'm giving the West Salem Neighborhood Association a big dose of Salem Political Snark for the shameful way a June 19 vote to support the Salem River Crossing (a.k.a. Third Bridge or Billion Dollar Boondoggle) was conducted.
The pro-bridge Salem Bridge Solutions group is giddy with delight at how the vote to have the West Salem Neighborhood Association (WSNA) go on record as supporting the Salem River Crossing turned out: 302 in favor, 49 opposed, 3 abstaining.
[Note this is a correction. Previously I reported a vote on an amendment to the final motion, not the final motion.]
They're also super-proud that apparently this was by far the largest number of people to attend a neighborhood association meeting in Salem history.
Well, since the Third Bridge agenda item was handled decidedly unfairly, it isn't surprising that Salem Bridge Solutions was able to pack the room with their supporters.
Here's the disturbing facts about how last Monday's vote came to be. I've assembled these from public documents and an exchange of emails with WSNA officers.
First, as I wrote in "West Salem Neighborhood Association vote on Third Bridge won't mean much," the WSNA bylaws contain this statement:
In cases where it becomes necessary to make a decision on an issue not published on the agenda, and the decision must be made before the next scheduled General Membership meeting, any statement of that decision should be accompanied with a disclaimer that reads, "The West Salem Neighborhood Association vote on this decision was made only by those in attendance on [meeting date] without prior public agenda notification.”
This makes sense.
There's a big difference between (1) a decision/vote that occurs after members of WSNA (people who live in, work in, or own property in West Salem) have been notified in advance that the decision/vote will be on the meeting agenda, and (2) a decision/vote that occurs without advance public notification (and, in this case, when a special interest group packs the meeting).
What happened on June 19 clearly was a case of (2). There was no advance mention on the WSNA June 19 meeting agenda that a vote to support or oppose the Salem River Crossing would happen.
Here's the agenda:
But obviously this doesn't mention the Salem River Crossing, nor a vote to support/oppose the Third Bridge.
No one reading the advance agenda would suspect that this important vote was going to happen. So if someone was interested in the bridge issue and perused the advance agenda to see if it was going to be discussed, they'd think "Nope, so no reason for me to attend the meeting."
Now, the minutes of the previous WSNA meeting on June 5 do contain a mention about Salem Bridge Solutions requesting a vote on the Salem River Crossing. Problem is, this wasn't part of the June 19 agenda, and there is no mention in the June 5 minutes that the WSNA board agreed to this request.
So how the heck did the Third Bridge vote happen at the June 19 meeting when it wasn't on the advance agenda, and how did 302 Third Bridge supporters show up at this meeting to take part in a vote that wasn't on the advance agenda?
Can you guess? Sneaky machinations.
Well, not super-sneaky, because two posts on the Salem Bridge Solutions Facebook page laid out what happened. The screenshot below of a Friday, June 16 post is the first mention that a Third Bridge vote will happen at the Monday, June 19 meeting. Remember: there was no mention of a vote in the advance June 19 meeting agenda.
So on June 16 the West Salem Neighborhood Association put up the Facebook post above saying that "to avoid confusion and clarify to all in the community, at our meeting during the 'Neighborhood Workgroup' conversation there will be a motion and vote regarding supporting the Salem River Crossing."
OK, this proves that the advance agenda lacked any mention of a vote being taken, since the WSNA leaders felt it was necessary to state (on the Friday before the Monday meeting) that a vote "regarding supporting the Salem River Crossing" would be taken during an advance agenda item that didn't include any mention of the bridge.
How did this "Friday surprise" come about? Again, a Salem Bridge Solutions Facebook post provides the answer.
Chad Bock noticed that the June 19 WSNA agenda didn't have any mention of a vote on the Third Bridge. He expresses his concern on the Salem Bridge Solutions Facebook page.
No problem, says the Salem Bridge Solutions spokesperson.
"We have been on it and met with the co-chairs [of WSNA] this morning. It is in the meeting minutes and Evan Sorce sent an email after we met with them to the person who does the agenda to add it as a separate item."
So a private meeting was held on Friday between Salem Bridge Solutions leaders and the WSNA co-chairs. This resulted in a commitment by the co-chairs to add a vote on the Third Bridge to the agenda. But contrary to what Salem Bridge Solutions said, there was no mention in previous meeting minutes that a vote would happen on June 19.
And the published advance agenda did not include any mention of the vote, as Chad Bock had pointed out. Bock went on to say:
"I think it's time to be very transparent and share about what was discussed with the WSNA Co-Chairs prior to the overwhelming vote in favor of a bridge? That way rumors do not get out and people will always support causes like ours that are on the up and up."
Excellent point. Especially since it sure seems that the way a vote on the Third Bridge got on the June 19 WSNA agenda wasn't on the up and up.
The co-chairs told Salem Bridge Solutions a vote would happen in a private get-together three days before the meeting. I've asked the leaders of the No 3rd Bridge group if they were notified by WSNA that a vote to support/oppose the Salem River Crossing was going to happen on June 19.
No, they weren't notified. So the Big Debate on whether to build a billion dollar bridge was set up by WSNA so only the group supporting the bridge was invited to take part. Which is freaking ridiculous. And shameful.
How is it possible that the WSNA leadership thought it was ethical and right to make a private deal with Salem Bridge Solutions to add a vote on the bridge to the June 19 agenda without also inviting the group opposing the bridge to take part in the vote? I have no idea, even though I served as the secretary for our neighborhood organization for 24 years.
Our board would never conduct a membership vote on an important issue without plenty of notice to all of our members, which naturally would include people on both sides of the issue. We never would make a backroom private deal with one group to have a vote at a meeting where the published agenda didn't include any mention of that vote.
Lastly, according to the draft minutes of the June 19 meeting, here's what happened at the beginning of it.
The end result was no big surprise: as mentioned above supporters of the bridge vastly outnumbered opponents of the bridge. After all, Salem Bridge Solutions had lobbied the WSNA co-chairs to add this vote to the agenda in a private get-together a few days before the June 19 meeting. And WSNA didn't invite anyone from No 3rd Bridge, the group opposing the bridge, to take part in the debate and vote.
It's clear that the WSNA leadership screwed up.
They didn't have the vote on the advance agenda for the meeting, and only publicized it via a single post on the WSNA Facebook page on June 16, three days before the meeting, after making a private deal with representatives of Salem Bridge Solutions.
Nonetheless, the WSNA officials I communicated with told me that even if someone who was at the June 19 meeting makes a motion at the next meeting to require that the disclaimer mentioned above about the vote be included in the minutes, as required by the WSNA bylaws, the WSNA board may not agree to do what their bylaws require them to do.
Simply put, this stinks.
Of favoritism. Of backroom deal-making. Of failure to conduct the WSNA meeting in an open fair manner.
Some people probably will think that I'm making too big of a deal out of all this. Is it worth a 1500 word blog post?
It damn sure is! I'll let the Washington Post slogan explain why.
People expect political shenanigans to take place in Washington D.C., state capitols, and city council meetings. Unfortunate, but this is the world we live in.
Neighborhood associations, though, should be a refuge from the political B.S. that permeates our society. At the most intimate local level, people should be able to treat each other with openness, respect, honesty, and fairness. We can disagree, but we don't have to be disagreeable.
This is why what happened on June 19 at the WSNA bothers me so much.
An important vote was taken on the Third Bridge even though it wasn't on the public advance agenda. The vote was added to the agenda only after bridge supporters met privately with the WSNA co-chairs. And after I brought this to the attention of WSNA officials, the reaction I'm getting is denial of the facts.
Hopefully they will change their minds. At the very least, the minutes of the June 19 meeting need to reflect what the WSNA bylaws require: this language in the section related to the bridge vote.
"The West Salem Neighborhood Association vote on this decision was made only by those in attendance on July 19 without prior public agenda notification.”
If this doesn't happen, democracy will have died a little bit, in darkness.