Well, there's either an innocent reason next Monday's City Council agenda contains a staff recommendation to postpone another vote on the Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District from April 23 to June 11, or there's a hidden reason.
UPDATE: The City Council decided to continue deliberations on the Reimbursement District at its May 14 meeting.
The second option -- hidden -- seems more likely to me, so I'm going to run with that in this post. Plus, it's way more fun to engage in political conspiracy theories than take utterances from City Hall on controversial issues like this one at face value.
That said, here's the staid, boring, straightforward explanation offered up by City Manager Steve Powers for postponing further deliberations on the reconsideration of the formation of the Reimbursement District.
At the April 23, 2018, City Council meeting Council will be conducting a public hearing on the proposed move of the Union Gospel Mission and West Salem Zone Code Clean Up. Moving the deliberations of reconsideration of the formation of the Lone Oak Reimbursement District to June 11, 2018, will allow adequate time on the agendas for all three topics.
This postponement will also allow staff more time to prepare information for the deliberations.
OK, but City staff knew that the Union Gospel Mission hearing was going to be on April 23 at the time of the March 26 City Council meeting, which was when Mayor Bennett made a motion to postpone a reconsideration vote on the Reimbursement District after a public hearing resulted in virtually unanimous opposition to the District.
(The Union Gospel Mission hearing was listed on the March 26 agenda as an upcoming public hearing.)
So the Machiavellian aspect of my political mind is thinking along the lines I'll describe below. As background to my musings, here's the timeline of the Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District proposal. Click here for my previous posts on this subject.
January 22: City Council votes 7-2 to form the District. Sally Cook and Cara Kaser are the no votes. Notably, Steve McCoid, the Ward 4 councilor who represents the Creekside area where the District is located, votes in favor of it.
February 12: After the South Gateway Neighborhood Association requests a reconsideration of the Reimbursement District approval, citing several reasons for this, the City Council votes unanimously to hold another hearing on March 26.
March 26: Opposition to the District clearly outweighs supporters of it. Following Mayor Bennett's motion, the City Council votes unanimously to continue deliberations on the reconsideration of the Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District at the April 23 meeting.
April 3: The City Manager recommends postponing those deliberations for seven weeks until the June 11 Council meeting.
Thus if the postponement is approved at next Monday's meeting, the Salem City Council will spend almost six months on the Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District. Which makes me think...
(1) Any time a controversial vote is put off until summer, there's reason to wonder whether this is being done to diffuse opposition to the issue. Sure, no more public testimony will be heard on the Reimbursement District, but the City Attorney said that citizens can convey their views to members of the City Council, and those members can discuss the District with interested citizens.
So one theory is that delaying the reconsideration deliberations for seven weeks is an attempt to pass it in the "dead of summer" when people affected by the District will be less likely to be lobbying against it.
(2) Steve McCoid is in a tough political spot. He voted for the Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District, but the District isn't popular among his constituents. His opponent in the May election, when two-person City Council races are decided, is Jackie Leung. She is against forming the Reimbursement District.
It's possible that McCoid, and/or his allies on the City Council, pressed for the seven week postponement to get the next vote on the District to be after the May 15 primary election. However, McCoid is already on record as supporting assessing lot owners in the south Salem area between $2,464 and $9,212 when a lot was developed in order to fund construction of the missing sections of Lone Oak Road.
Why, then, would McCoid want to keep this issue on the Ward 4 political table through the primary election? It might be because another vote in favor of the Reimbursement District around the time ballots are being received and filled out would be a more visible campaign issue than McCoid's first vote to establish the District back in January.
(3) Complicating the political calculations for McCoid is the fact that his largest outside campaign contribution is $2,500 from the Oregon Realtors Political Action committee. The Lone Oak Road Reimbursement District basically is a giveaway to developers in the Creekside area who otherwise would have to pay for improvements to the road themselves. McCoid thus either would tick off his constituents if he votes "Yes" on the reconsideration of the District, or irritate Oregon Realtors if he votes "No."
(4) Lastly, Steve McCoid seems to realize that he's in a tough battle against Jackie Leung in his quest to be re-elected Ward 4 councilor. His largest campaign contribution came from himself yesterday, $5,000 (see below). As noted before, it's possible to argue both ways as to whether postponing a vote on the Reimbursement District helps or hurts McCoid.
But if we're concerned about transparency in City government and holding elected officials responsible for their votes, clearly it would be better if the City Council stuck to its original plan to have deliberations on the reconsideration of the Reimbursement District occur as scheduled on April 23 so that voters know where council candidates stand on this issue prior to the May election.
City Manager Powers said that postponing the deliberations until June 11 would give staff "more time to prepare information for the deliberations." Well, they've had several months to do this already, so it's difficult to see why giving City staff another seven weeks would make much of a difference.
On the whole I see the attempt to move the deliberations to June 11 as a delaying tactic. It'll be interesting to see which members of the City Council agree to this next Monday, and which say "let's get this over with on April 23 as previously planned."