Stonewalling. Obfuscating. Ignoring.
There's numerous ways to describe how City of Salem staff are failing to respond to questions from the South Gateway Neighborhood Association (SGNA) about why the Creekside developer hasn't been required to build an extension of Lone Oak Road, the cost of which would be borne by the public if a Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District gets a go-ahead from the City Council next Monday.
The neighborhood association is justifiably irritated at how they've been treated by City staff. Here's an excerpt from a letter submitted by SGNA as advance testimony for the March 26 hearing on the Reimbursement District.
Download March 26 City Council Meeting - SGNA Testimony & Attachments
I've circled in red the unanswered question that I'm most interested in.
When "public servants" willfully ignore questions that, if answered, likely would put them in a bad light, this strikes at the heart of the trust that should exist between government employees and the citizens whom they ostensibly serve.
Look, everybody makes mistakes. These can be forgiven when a mistake is honestly acknowledged, and sincere efforts are made to prevent the error from happening again.
But City of Salem staff are choosing a different approach: ignore tough questions about how the development of the Creekside neighborhood was handled in an apparent hope that throwing up a smokescreen of verbiage will make concerned citizens forget that their queries were ignored.
I hope the Mayor and other members of the City Council will keep asking the following two simple questions of City staff until they get believable answers.
What we know is that in 2007 the Creekside developer built a box culvert over Jory Creek and started construction of the northern extension of Lone Oak Road. There are photos of this work in a City of Salem staff report.
Download CITY OF SALEM - File #: 17-341
Here's an excerpt from the report.
In 2007, the Creekside developer initiated construction of the missing segment of Lone Oak Road. Construction plans were prepared by a private engineering consultant and permits were issued by the City. A box culvert was installed over Jory Creek and some preliminary earth grading along the alignment of Lone Oak Road was completed. Work on the project was halted by the developer and no additional work has occurred since 2007. At present, there is no timetable for constructing the bridge and remaining sections of Lone Oak Road SE.
Question 1: Why did the developer halt work on the Lone Oak Road improvements? Permits to construct the missing segment of Lone Oak Road were issued by the City of Salem. So there wasn't any disagreement about the work to be done, given the permits. The work just was stopped by the developer.
Question 2: Why did City officials allow the developer to walk away from completing the Lone Oak Road improvements? Again, the Creekside developer obviously believed they were required to build a bridge and road, or the 2007 work wouldn't have been started. There should be some documentation of an agreement to allow the developer to stop work on the Lone Oak Road improvements, unless the agreement was verbal, which would be bothersome. Yet City staff haven't been able or willing to provide those documents.
Bottom line: there seems to be some sort of cover-up regarding the Creekside developer's failure to complete the Lone Oak Road improvements that were started in 2007. I'm usually loathe to use that word, cover-up, but it seems fitting in this case.
The spin being put forward by City of Salem staff just doesn't hold up under scrutiny. The staff report for the reconsideration of a Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District on the March 26 City Council meeting agenda is in a question and answer format, with the questions having been posed by the South Gateway Neighborhood Association. One Q & A says:
Q5: Why did the estimated cost of the bridge crossing Jory Creek increase so greatly?
A5: The difference of estimated cost is based on a difference of opinion between City staff and the developer’s engineer as to what will be required by the state and federal permitting agencies for the crossing of Jory Creek. The developer’s engineer proposed a long culvert with deep fills, which is less expensive but has greater environmental impact. City staff proposes a bridge structure, which is more expensive but has a lower environmental impact.
But this answer doesn't make sense, since as noted above, permits were issued by the City of Salem for the bridge and road work initiated by the Creekside developer in 2007. So at that time there wasn't any "difference of opinion" between City staff and the developer's engineer, since City staff approved the developer's plan for the Lone Oak Road improvements.
And it's incorrect for City staff to say in the answer to Question 5 that the developer's engineer "proposed" a long culvert with deep fills, because this is what was actually built by the developer after getting permits from the City of Salem. Here's the proof:
I realize that Salem's city councilors are unpaid and don't have staff of their own, which makes them dependent on City of Salem employees. However, they still can ask tough questions of City staff and not put up with refusals to answer cogent questions.
If City staff can't answer the two questions I posed, which reflect questions asked by the South Gateway Neighborhood Association, there shouldn't be a vote on the Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District proposal.
Salem citizens shouldn't be asked to foot the bill for completing the unbuilt northern section of Lone Oak Road until it is clear why the Creekside developer was allowed to stop construction of the bridge and road after beginning this work in 2007. Again, the questions are:
Why did the developer halt work on the Lone Oak Road improvements?
Why did City officials allow the developer to walk away from completing the Lone Oak Road improvements?