Thanks to quick work by staff of Salem's Human Rights Commission, today I got draft minutes of two meetings that I requested.
This allows me to sound like CNN's Wolf Blitzer and intone, Breaking news! Happening now! Human Rights Commission says "No" to City officials' plan to lease space from the anti-gay Salem Alliance Church to temporarily house library.
As noted in yesterday's blog post, "City officials may pay anti-gay church to house library," this controversial proposal was addressed by the LGBTQ Rights Task Force of the Human Rights Commission on June 26, and by the full Commission on July 2.
Below I've shared the text of three documents that I received from Gretchen Bennett, whose title is Human Rights and Relations/Federal Compliance Manager, Mayor/City Manager’s Office, City of Salem. I complimented her on the wonderfully detailed and well-written draft minutes of the meetings.
Bennett also shared a statement that was passed unanimously by the Salem Human Rights Commission on July 2 that opposes using the Salem Alliance Church building for a temporary relocation of the Salem Public Library. I've boldfaced parts for emphasis in this blog post.
Download HRC statement on the Library relocation
As you read these materials, keep in mind that the Salem Alliance Church believes that same-sex sex and same-sex marriage is a sin, and the Broadway Coffee House run by the church refuses to say that they would hire an otherwise qualified person who was a member of the LGBTQ community.
My previous blog post contains links to other posts I've written that document these facts.
Here's the Human Rights Commission statement. I applaud the Commission for standing up for what is right, even if it causes some inconvenience to those planning the library relocation.
It's also admirable that the Commission and the LGBTQ Rights Task Force stood firm against the library director, City of Salem attorney, and Commission staff -- all of whom clearly wanted the Human Rights Commission to go along with the plan of city officials to relocate the library to the old Capital Press building owned by the Salem Alliance Church.
UPDATE: In a comment on this post, someone shared an audio file of the April 19 Library Renovation Council Subcommittee meeting. Discussion of sites to temporarily house the library is at about the 34 minute mark. This shows that contrary to what the Human Rights Commission was told, there are several other viable locations other than the Capital Press building owned by the Salem Alliance Church.
There also was a recognition by the committee that leasing the church building would be controversial, given the church's discriminatory attitude toward the LGBTQ community. At about 41:30 in the recording there's mention that Gretchen Bennett, staff to the Human Rights Commission, was asked about this and said the controversy would be "easily weathered." Well, we shall see about that.
At about the 42 minute mark a committee member asks about money from the City of Salem going into church coffers, which obviously would occur.
Bottom line: it appears that City staff wrongly asserted to the Human Rights Commission that the church building was the only viable site to house the library, while this wasn't the message being given to the Library Renovation Council Subcommittee. And they knew that the church discriminated against LGBTQ people, but thought they could still get away with leasing the church building.
The Liberty Plaza site is no longer available to lease, but the Vick Building is still listed. So City officials need to do some explaining about why they told the LGBTQ Rights Task Force, which is part of the Human Rights Commission, that the church building was the only option to house the library.
Here's a link to the audio file.
That's why I've included the full text of the documents in this blog post. Reading the material is seeing democracy in action, people struggling to find the correct way forward, and speaking truth to power.
Salem Human Rights Commission statement concerning
the potential lease of property owned by the Salem Alliance Church
for the temporary relocation of the Salem Public Library.
[Note: I've added emphasis of certain sections by boldfacing the text]
The Salem Human Rights Commission (Commission) is deeply concerned about the proposed lease of the property owned by the Salem Alliance Church for the temporary location of the Salem Public Library. The Commission values having a library that they can reasonably expect all persons will access, to be consistent with the purpose and intent of the City’s Human Rights Code. The Commission believes that some members of the community, including some in LGBTQ communities, will not be comfortable accessing the space.
The purpose of the Commission is to promote harmonious relations within the city, examine sources of tension, practices of discrimination and act of prejudice in the city, and make recommendations concerning solutions to specific problems of prejudice or discrimination. The Commission will continue to be available for reports of discrimination in the community.
The Commission fully understands and supports freedom of religion and expression for all people, including faith based organizations. One of the Commission’s roles is to actively assist persons who experience discrimination based upon religion.
This commitment to freedom of religion, however, does not allow for the Commission to be in support of this business transaction. It is offensive to some members of the Salem community for the City to enter into a contract with, and pay money to, an entity that may be experienced as unwelcoming to members of the LGBTQ community.
The Commission strongly supports and appreciates the mission and programing of the Salem Public Library, The Library plays a critical role in providing a welcoming and supportive environment for all members of the community, particularly members of the community that are vulnerable, our youth, and those of limited means. Locating the Library at the proposed site will result in a Library that some members of the community, not only the LGBTQ, will not be willing to visit, and will negatively impact the Library’s mission.
The Commission has been informed that this location is the only adequate property available for the Library relocation, and that if the City does not use this space, only the west Salem library branch will be open during the renovation.
The Commission respectfully requests that the City review the available properties for other potential options, and select another location, even if that location is not as ideal in cost or operations. In the event that the City must use this location, the Commission recommends that the City Council publicly proclaim the City’s support and adherence to the purpose and intent ofthe City’s Human Rights Code, particularly as applied to the LGBTQ community, and urge all ofthe city’s residents to support and encourage a city free of discriminatory barriers. Further, the City should affirm that the City, particularly the Library, is open and welcoming to all members of the Community, and that the City is committed to ensuring that the Library will remain so during its relocation. The Commission and the LBGTQ Task Force is committed to working with the Salem Public Library to develop options to make the Library’s temporary space accessible, welcoming and inclusive to all.
Approved by the Human Rights Commission July 2, 2019
______________________________________ Danielle Meyer, Chair,
on behalf of the Human Rights Commission
Here's the text of an Action Item discussed at the July 2 Human Rights Commission meeting that led to the statement above being approved. The full draft minutes can be read by clicking on this link.
Download 7 2 2019 Human Rights Commission
Action Item: Library Relocation/ Inclusive Space
Sarah Strahl and Dan Atchison gave a review of the library relocation project including its scope, purpose and needs of the library. The Library Renovation Council Subcommittee has been in the process of reviewing potential temporary space for a full service Library during the seismic retrofit. As options for that space came to the committee, one of the potential spaces includes the old Capital Press building, owned by Salem Alliance Church. The Subcommittee requested the Human Right’s Commission’s input into ensuring all races, creeds, religions and identities continue to be welcome in the new space, as they are in the current location. Chair Meyer asked Commissioners to review the draft statement from the Commission to see if there were any changes they would like to make.
Vice Chair Bechtoldt draws members to the fourth paragraph, second line of the draft statement which says, “[i]t is offensive to members of the Commission, and to some in the local LGBTQ community, for the City to enter into a contract with, and pay money to, an entity that may beexperienced as unwelcoming to members of the LGBTQ community” to instead read “it isoffensive to some in the local LGBTQ community....”
Member Watters suggests taking out the language of “members of the Commission” and instead read “Commission” to make it more general. Member Dass clarified with staff if this statement should be coming from the HRC and not the LGBTQ Task Force. Member Borja stated if the location will be the place of the library, it would be beneficial to add language about how the library could make itself more inclusive.
Member HK Leblond agreed and felt it was important it is stressed in the statement that the Commission is there to help the library and the community and wants more information about the experiences of people with the organization; this is seconded by Member Aquinas- Gallagher. Chair Meyer says she has personally not experienced discrimination, that no formal complaint has been made to the City or the Commission and that she feels like the statement is both accurate and necessary.
Member Schwartz shared feedback from a member of the public and Vice Chair Bechtoldt shared her experience of her work place choosing to not hold events at another church owned property. Member HK Leblond asks how the City plans to react if the library moves in and there are community concerns. Chair Meyer stresses that she is confident the City and its staff would not act discriminatory, but is concerned about the perception. Dan Atchison was able to clarify that this would purely be a business transaction as the City has with other rental sites across the city and this is a policy issue rather than a legal issue.
Member Dass circles back to Member HK Leblond’s question about issues that may arise after the library moves in and how the library plans to handle those. Librarian Sarah Strahl shares this is why the Library Renovation Council Subcommittee has approached them for feedback and how they can make the space more inclusive. Chair Meyer thanked Sarah and says that the Commission will continue to be a resource to the library through this process.
Vice Chair Bechtoldt makes a motion to amend the statement to read that “[i]t is offensive tomembers of the Salem community for the City to enter into a contract with, and pay money to,an entity that may be experienced as unwelcoming to members of the LGBTQ community.” This is seconded by Member HK Leblond and passed unanimously.
Member Borja asks if the Commission wanted to provide clearer direction to the Library staff about ways the Library could be more inclusive if the location was selected. Chair Meyer and Member Tricarico suggest adding a sentence explicitly stating the Human Rights Commission and the LGBTQ Task Force are here to provide support to the community and the Library. Dan and Sarah confirm the plan for the Library move is November, so there is time to plan more concrete suggestions if that is desired.
Member HK Leblond read aloud from Chapter 97 of the Salem Revised Code which helps guide the Commission and says that she wants to add the sentence regarding support. After discussion among the group, Member HK Leblond motions for the sentence, “[t]he Commission will continue to be available for reports of discrimination in the community” to be added to the end of the second paragraph. This is seconded by Member Watters and approved unanimously by the Commission.
Member HK Leblond then motions for the entire statement as amended to be approved by the Commission, this is seconded by Member Dass and approved unanimously. Dan lets the Commission know he will make their amendments to the statement and then provide a copy for Chair Meyer to sign on behalf of the Commission. He shares he anticipates the issue going before Council on July 22nd.
Lastly, here's part of the draft minutes of the June 26 meeting of the LGBTQ Rights Task Force of the Human Rights Commission. This is where the idea for a statement opposing relocation of the library to the building owned by the Salem Alliance Church originated.
Download LGBTQ Rights June
5. Salem Public Library: Welcoming and Inclusive Services
Norm Wright, Salem Community Development Director, and Sarah Strahl, City Librarian, shared the upcoming plan to seismically retrofit the main branch of the library. They are here to ask how, in the new space, they can make our library as welcoming and inclusive as possible. APowerPoint presentation was provided. Norm spoke to the library’s core services of welcoming spaces, collections, outreach/events, technology access and customer assistance. A temporary space will be needed for at least 18 months.
Norm noted the group has been working since November with a relocation committee which includes Councilors Hoy, Lewis and Library Advisory Board member Stark. The group researched locations and is left with one option available to continue providing services. The site was formerly known as Capital Press, and is owned by Salem Alliance Church. The space is move-in ready, and the team is running out of time. Access, building safety and life systems such as egress, are examples of criteria considered in site selection.
Warehouses were one type of building looked at, Norm explained, but these are built with different requirements, given they aren’t needing to house a large number of people. Over1,000 persons a day come through the main branch, and aspects such as exiting in case of emergency, bathrooms, and other features must be considered. The bond funding provided for the retrofit project is not able to be used for renovating temporary space, nor is there time to do so.
Sarah shared the location is in an active part of town at Broadway and Market and is on a major bus line. There will be free parking while at this interim space. There will be some viable meeting rooms available. There is also a loading dock; given the lack of overall space in the facility (going from 90,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet) a functional loading dock is key to acquire materials from partnering libraries as well as to stock outreach vehicles.
Sarah spoke to the importance of ensuring everyone is welcome in the new space. She discussed past activities such as the table in conjunction with Transgender Day of Remembrance and spoke of methods such as pins worn to express personal pronouns.
Norm and Sarah and the library renovation committee are at the Commission to request ananswer to the question, “How can we make our library space as welcoming and inclusive aspossible?”
Chair Meyer thanked Norm and Sarah for presenting and shared she has always been impressed with the library as a regular patron.
In answer to the question, she said the way to be welcoming is to learn what the published policies are of the owner of the space as to their inclusion of all persons including LGBTQ communities. She expressed strong opposition to leasing the space without clear, published statements demonstrating commitment to inclusion of LGBTQ communities by the building owner.
Commissioner Rollings expressed great hesitation, feeling it doesn’t look well to collaborate withan organization that is hostile to LGBTQ communities; as President of the local chapter of PFLaG, he said he receives reports of concerns. He shared he is hearing of kids who are directly affected by bias experienced. He was concerned city tax dollars would go to an organization that doesnot align with the library’s values of inclusion.
Commissioner Aquinas Gallagher expressed she felt it is wrong, and a stand must be taken. She spoke of an example of a person who expressed concerns to her, who is gay, and opted to leave their previous affiliation with the church.
Commissioner Schwartz spoke of reports of hateful things in a local blog and of concerns/complaints she has heard from people in the community. She raised the recent scheduling of a specific group at the library, who had been known to express hate.
Gretchen paused the conversation, and observed that everyone in the room shares a common goal to be welcoming and inclusive to all, and, to have a library space during the seismic retrofit.
Commissioner Watters was unable to be at the meeting; he submitted written input; copies of his email were shared with all participants. His input was noted.
Gretchen inquired if the complaints discussed related to places of public accommodation? She noted the community blog includes a statement from the church, which clarifies that the church does not ask questions in the hiring process related to LGBTQ, that it operates its public spaces to be open to everyone. She noted the right of faith based organizations to freedom of religion, a factor the Human Rights Commission also works with.
The group spoke of the dependence of the community on the library, and that there aren’t other options. Gretchen expressed significant concern of not having a library for the many who depend on the space especially in winter months or for critical help such as technology access.
An idea of a statement emerged. Members and Commissioners discussed the idea of making a strong statement of concern. Gretchen inquired what the statement would be based upon, given the freedom of religion and the lack of substantiated complaints received.
Gretchen spoke of criteria for what goes into a statement or a recommendation. When contemplating these it is helpful to ask questions such as what the impact will be (no library during winter months?), what the recommendation is based upon, and to always be accurate. It is difficult to take indirect or secondary reports, and from that to imply founded discrimination.
A brief recess was taken.
The group clarified that the lease agreement would allow the City to control what signs were up in the space; Norm indicated yes.
Commissioner Aquinas-Gallagher shared she would not go to the library if the site is chosen.
Chair Meyer clarified the process. Norm noted that this option is emerging as there is not another option. City Council makes decisions on lease agreements. Chair Meyer spoke of understanding the need, and putting value on people, not spaces.
Commissioner Rollings inquired about purchasing processes. Norm explained it works much like local house hunting wherein they are free to research from multiple brokers and places, not limited to those who apply or come to them. He spoke of the exhaustive search undertaken these past months.
Commissioner Schwartz urged everyone to think about what is right, not only about what is legal.
Member Kimball acknowledged the difficulty. He encouraged keeping open discussion. He encouraged the library to commit openly in forward facing ways with the LGBTQ community.Commissioner Watters’ email also contained a suggestion along those lines if this was the onlyspace available.
The group discussed looking at it through the lens of the Human Rights Commission at their next meeting, July 2.
Commissioner Borja indicated the group should also address the question the library staff asked, which is how the library space can be as welcome and inclusive as possible? She does not want to not see a library.
I am troubled by this statement in the Commission statement:
"The Commission has been informed that this location is the only adequate property available for the Library relocation, and that if the City does not use this space, only the west Salem library branch will be open during the renovation."
If you listen to audio of the April meeting of the Library Renovation Council Subcommittee, as I have, they clearly state that three possible locations had been identified. Besides the Capitol Press Building there is Liberty Plaza and the Vick Building downtown. Both would cost more because of the need for modifications to accommodate the temporary library. But they would be options. When did the story change? Is this another case of lack of transparency from City staff?
Here is the audio file: . The discussion of temporary facilities begins about 34 minutes in.
Posted by: Jim Scheppke | July 09, 2019 at 08:44 AM
I am commenting as a resident of Salem and not representing the city in this comment though I serve as Chair of the City of Salem Human Rights Commission. This comment does address mine and other roles in this process
Regarding the paragraph referring to City staff and City Attorney,
"It's also admirable that the Commission and the LGBTQ Rights Task Force stood firm against the library director, City of Salem attorney, and Commission staff -- all of whom clearly wanted the Human Rights Commission to go along with the plan of city officials to relocate the library to the old Capital Press building owned by the Salem Alliance Church."
I want to clarify the role of city staff to the commission and city attorney. Both of them worked very thoughtfully and respectfully of all involved in this discussion. They put in extra time on helping us with drafting this statement and were invaluable as resources for the LGBTQ rights task force, the Human Rights Commission, and the library as we examined the subject.
As chair of the commission and chair of the LGBTQ rights task force I would like to point out that our perspective was invited by the library relocation committee. It was with great help from city staff and city attorney that we were able to take our position in an informed and respectful manner. I am grateful for the collaboration and feel that these city employees care very much for all the people of the city of Salem in a very professional and impartial, yet compassionate manner. Our volunteer commission was empowered to make the statement regarding library relocation because we have an infrastructure in place through Chapters 8 and 97 of Salem Revised Code and strong communication with city staff. At this point the decision is City Councils to make. If anyone reading this feels strongly about this issue then please communicate your view with your city councilor before the July 22nd council meeting.
It was hard to make this statement as the city does not have substantiated reports of discrimination. If there were reports made to our Human Rights Commission regarding discrimination in employment, public accommodation and accessibility about Salem Alliance Church, the Commission would be able to take an even stronger position.
Our municipal government in Salem welcomes and encourages anyone experiencing discrimination and bias to reach out to the Human Rights Commission and Gretchen Bennett (city staff to the commission and the city's Human Rights and Relations/Federal Compliance Manager) Having these reports of discrimination greatly clarify's the decision making process when we encounter issues like this one. A report can be made, the commission and Gretchen can then provide resources for follow up, and the person reporting can choose the level of follow up they want to pursue if any.
As a transgender woman I understand why many are reluctant to report discrimination. I can also see why it is so very important to do so. With institutional discrimination still being common in our nation it is hard to put ourselves and our identities in the public eye for further scrutiny. We often just want it to go away and move on. I am personally very grateful that there is a mechanism in place at the city level to report discrimination and if the individual chooses, follow up. That is not the case in many places around the country which is why I am here in Salem and choose to serve on our commission.
Posted by: Danielle Meyer | July 09, 2019 at 10:03 AM