I'm not a fan of the whole deep state thing when Trump supporters use the term to denigrate career federal employees who are simply trying to do their job as best they can.
But rightly or wrongly, deep state has become a sort of shorthand for government officials hanging on to past policy positions after the political winds of change have begun blowing in a different direction. So that's how I'm using the term.
After quite a few years of progressives being outnumbered by conservatives on the Salem City Council, they now enjoy a 6-3 majority. Tom Andersen, Cara Kaser, Sally Cook, Chris Hoy, Matt Ausec, and Jackie Leung constitute the progressive wing. Jim Lewis, Brad Nanke, and Mayor Chuck Bennett make up the conservative wing.
(Yeah, arguably Bennett is a moderate because he tends to swing left or right depending on shifting political breezes. But I still classify him as a conservative.)
Given the progressive tenor of the City Council, liberals in Salem tend to expect that actions by City of Salem staff should reflect the wishes of the voters that have changed the makeup of the council dramatically leftward in the past few elections.
However, Salem has a strong City Manager and weak City Council form of local government. By and large, City Manager Steve Powers doesn't have to change direction just because the City Council has. A new strategic planning process should change this to some extent, as the City budget should better reflect Council priorities.
But right now we're in an awkward stage where the ponderous City of Salem ship is taking longer to alter course than progressives like me would like. Here's some examples.
Third Bridge. Even though a clear majority of City Council members oppose the billion dollar (with financing costs) Salem River Crossing project, a.k.a. the Third Bridge, City staff have continued to press onward with it. At least, I'm not aware that City Manager Powers has directed his employees to stop spending time and money on the Salem River Crossing -- perhaps because Mayor Bennett remains a staunch supporter of it.
Homelessness. Recently Powers ordered a homeless camp under the Marion Street bridge to be removed, and to prevent volunteers from serving meals to the homeless at that location. While there are defensible reasons for these actions, they didn't exactly make City officials look like caring, compassionate people. I'll let an Angry Owl tweet do the talking about this.
Costco. City of Salem planning staff busily worked away on approving a controversial proposal to relocate Salem's Costco to a site along Kuebler Boulevard immediately adjacent to a residential neighborhood. The proposal was a marked departure from an earlier agreement to build a neighborhood retail shopping center there, rather than a giant regional wholesale Costco big box store.
City staff also thought it was fine to allow Costco to remove mature white oaks that are protected by a City ordinance. But the City Council rejected the Costco plan on a 5-3 vote, with five progressives outnumbering the three conservatives.
Mountain West apartment complex. This issue hasn't reached the City Council yet, but it seems a lot like the Costco situation: City of Salem staff approving a development that threatens the Heritage School and ignores the Fairview Master Plan, and refinements to it, that require construction on the Fairview property to be both environmentally sustainable and in harmony with existing developments. So once again City staff may be operating at odds with Council priorities, and prior planning decisions.
Appointment of Jim Lewis to transportation committee. Councilor Lewis not only is a strong supporter of the billion dollar Salem River Crossing boondoggle, he has zero discernible commitment to bike paths and mass transit/public transportation.
Yet Mayor Bennett has appointed one of the three conservatives on the nine-member City Council to an important committee dealing with transportation funding. Here's how the Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger described this:
The Mayor will announce assignments to various internal and external committees. But on those Council assignments it is interesting to see that Councilor Lewis will again be assigned to our Metropolitan Planning Organization, SKATS.
Councilor Lewis has been, depending on how charitable you feel, either a personality refreshingly independent of Council policy or outright insubordinate.
On the SRC he has consistently acted contrary to Council direction. There are other areas in which it is possible to say he has not very passionately advocated for Council policy and intent, especially when it concerns greenhouse gases or non-auto travel.
It is not difficult to see the Mayor's calculations, his bias for the SRC and preference at SKATS.
But is this something the rest of Council should embrace? The politics are not easy to discern, and it's very possible there are other battles to fight and that this is simply not worth it.
But at the same time, it is strange to have someone at the MPO, which administers significant pots of federal transportation funding, who does not skillfully and passionately advocate for the interests of the City as Council articulates them. Why the tolerance for an underminer?
Division Street trees. People in Salem love their trees. When City of Salem Public Works director Peter Fernandez made a backroom deal with the U.S. Bank president to cut down five beautiful healthy trees on downtown's State Street in 2013, there was a lot of justified outrage. So now it's 2019. Fernandez remains in his job.
And the City of Salem is still aiming to cut down large beautiful healthy downtown trees for no good reason -- in the case of the Division Street trees, to gain a few parking spaces by changing parallel parking to angled parking, even though the public was told that the new police facility would have public parking, but staff chose to eliminate that parking and cut down the trees instead.
Library book removal. It is decidedly weird that the Salem Public Library director, Sarah Strahl, apparently with the support of City Manager Powers, would choose to embark on a massive book removal project shortly after Salem voters approved a $19 million bond measure to make improvements to the library.
Dumping many thousands of books for no good reason doesn't seem like a wise way to say "thank you" to the many people in Salem who love their library and voted for the bond measure. Fortunately, citizen resistance has put a hold on the book removal effort until February 13, when the issue will be revisited by the Library Advisory Board.
Last week, I attended the Salem Public Library Advisory Board meeting and was pleased to see about 80 residents in attendance who, like me, are concerned about what is happening at the library.
The current practice of mass book removal is baffling — the wrong direction for the library and just another step in its degradation.
We are not out of shelving nor floor space. Removal of the Information and Reference Information service desk is both shocking and indefensible.
Elimination of children’s story times, special adult and children’s programs and a Branch Librarian at the West Salem Branch is a total betrayal of that community
I have been a librarian for more than 50 years and have worked in high school, community college, large public university, and several public libraries, 30 of those years at Salem Public Library.
The Salem Public Library was for many years considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best, public libraries in Oregon. Sadly, that is no longer the case.
I sincerely hope the city administration will take a long and hard look at the direction our library is going and take steps to reverse course.
Lastly, City Manager Steve Powers still seems to command the confidence of City councilors. At least, I haven't heard any rumors that his job is in jeopardy. But at some point Powers needs to show that he's acting in accord with what the people of Salem want.
Too often City staff seem to cater to special interests rather than the broad public interest. Powers has been here long enough to now own that problem. How he deals with it could determine how long he's going to remain as City Manager.