Today I had an stimulating conversation about Salem, including political goings-on, with a person who had some appealingly fresh ideas about what needs to change in our city to make it a better place to live for everybody -- not just the already well-off.
Our talk got me to thinking about what Salem would be like if... where what follows the "if" is an outcome unconstrained by what exists today, because that would pretty much guarantee more of the same.
Here's a sampling of what my mind came up with.
What if Salem...
-- Had a City Council that truly reflected the diversity of our population, which would notably include at least one Latino councilor, and ideally several. Plus, four or five women on the nine-member Council, not just two, as is the case now.
-- Was a town where you could easily get anywhere in the city limits at almost any time without a car, because mass transit and safe bike paths had become a priority over hugely expensive street "improvements" that didn't merit that name.
-- Had a Chamber of Commerce that acted as a moderating force between divisive political views, rather than a group that always tilted toward the conservative end of the spectrum.
-- Benefitted from a daily newspaper that covered local issues in a zealous in-depth fashion, keeping people informed about happenings in Salem they needed to know about, along with investigative reporting that wasn't afraid to criticize the rich and powerful in this town.
-- Was a place where minorities got the same respect from the Powers That Be as the white men who have run Salem for, well, forever, and continue to do so today.
-- Had leaders at the City of Salem (City Manager, Department heads) who regularly engaged in no-holds-barred Q & A and discussion sessions with members of the public who could ask them tough questions and expect answers with zero bureaucratic bullshit attached.
-- Never had a governmental committee, task force, work group, or such, that didn't include several members who had direct personal experience with the problem being studied (unlike, say, the current Downtown Homelessness Solutions Task Force which, I'm pretty sure, doesn't have any members who are actually homeless).
-- Had a full-time, well-paid, Truth & Transparency Ombudsperson employed by the City of Salem whose sole job was to ensure that both verbal and written communications by City staff were clear, accurate, and written in language that anyone could understand.
-- Was an outpost for PolitiFact, or a similar fact-checking group, that kept local politicians and other civic leaders on their truth-telling toes, because otherwise they'd be held to account for the lies/falsehoods they told.
-- Had an ongoing outreach program to people in Salem who are marginalized, don't have much of a voice, and feel estranged from local government that gives them a regular "soapbox" at City Council meetings where they get to talk about their unresolved problems and get straight answers about why nothing is being done about them.
-- Became known as the Oregon town with the most innovative, creative approaches to civic problems.
Hey, I can dream.