OK, it's a truism that when a headline includes a question mark, the answer usually is "No." But I'm not asking if something is wrong with officials at the City of Salem, Oregon variety. (Not to be confused with the witch'y Salem in Massachusetts.)
Rather, it seems clear to me -- based on the evidence below -- that City officials indeed are acting in decidedly screwy ways. But I'm not sure what the cause of that screwy wrongness is. I'll throw out one idea at the end of this post. Feel free to add your own in a comment.
For those unfamiliar with how city government here in Salem is organized, these are some basic facts.
(1) We have a strong City Manager, weak Mayor/City Council setup. The Mayor and eight city councilors make up the City Council. Those nine people have no staff of their own. They aren't even paid, being volunteers. So they're dependent on City officials for just about everything.
(2) Policies supposedly are established by the City Council, then implemented by the City Manager and his staff (the current City Manager is Steve Powers). But as I said in the above-linked blog post:
So as a City of Salem web page says, "While the City Council and Mayor set laws, policies and goals for the City of Salem, the City Manager and City Departments implement them."
Thus there's a considerable inertia that has to be overcome before citizens start seeing tangible signs of changed policies.
Here's some examples of what's been going wrong at City Hall lately.
Climate Action Plan being knowingly weakened. Steve Powers, the City Manager, knows full well that the Climate Action Plan called for in the Strategic Plan approved by the City Council is intended to have a broad scope, including carbon pollution being emitted everywhere in Salem.
Yet the Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger has noted that Powers seemingly now is viewing the Climate Action Plan as applying only to the City of Salem. This caused 350 Salem OR, the local chapter of 350.org, to be appropriately troubled.
Hopefully the City Manager isn't trying to undermine the Climate Action Plan. But his past actions, where Powers knowingly lied about the nature of the Climate Action Plan, certainly call into question his good intentions.
Open Streets event cancelled for 2019. Salem keeps slipping in comparison to other Oregon cities when it comes to being cycling-friendly. We're going backwards, not forwards, in national assessments of how easy and enjoyable it is to ride a bicycle in Salem.
In 2013, 2014, and 2015 there was a Salem Sunday Streets event. Then it was cancelled in 2016. It came back in 2017 and 2018. Now it has been cancelled again. Here's part of my 2016 post, "Tell City officials you want a bigger and better Salem Sunday Streets."
I don't know why the City of Salem's support for Salem Sunday Streets has slipped so much.
Being a citizen activist on various local issues, I'm concerned that the folks currently running City Hall are letting their lust for a billion dollar Third Bridge across the Willamette take precedence over much-needed improvements to Salem's cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
The more people experience the joy of getting around town without a car, the less need there will be for an already unnecessary Third Bridge and other costly expansions of Salem's roads. Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces, is quoted in a book I'm reading, "This Is Where You Belong."
"If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places."
City officials kept on pushing for a Third Bridge long after it was obvious that a majority on the City Council favored killing this boondoggle, which eventually happened.
Likewise, City officials are dragging their feet on improving the ability of residents to get around town on bicycles, as evidenced by the lack of support for Open Streets events that are wildly popular in Portland, Eugene, and other Oregon cities. So what gives?
Steve Powers reportedly was a cyclist when he came to Salem for the City Manager job from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
But he is doing exactly nothing, so far as I can tell, to wean City officials off of their addiction to big expensive road improvements that are aimed at what the Breakfast on Bikes blogger calls "hydraulic autoism" -- a mindless continuation of failed transportation policies that are a major contributor to the global warming caused by carbon pollution.
The web site for Open Streets Salem no longer exists, a sign of how uncaring City of Salem staff are about this event.
Crazy public library policies. Librarians have a reputation of being pleasingly boring. When was the last time you heard a director of a public library call for something that makes citizens think, WTF?
But Sarah Strahl, the director of the Salem Public Library, along with other City officials, have been involved in two decidedly WTF policy decisions recently that have bothered people who previously were strongly supportive of the library.
First, Strahl and Co. engaged in a massive book removal effort called by opponents of this bad idea, the Big Weed. City officials never were able to explain why they wanted to discard so many books for no good reason. They just kept on doing it, until the City Council stepped in and the Big Weed was first paused, then stopped entirely.
Second, somehow Strahl and other City officials thought it would be a great idea to house a temporary library in a building owned by the Salem Alliance Church, the most notorious anti-LGBTQ rights organization in Salem.
Unsurprisingly, a large public outcry resulted.
The Salem Human Rights Commission unanimously voted to oppose this plan, since members of the LGBTQ community wouldn't use the library if it was in a building owned by a church that considers them second-class citizens (the church rejects same-sex marriage and considers same-sex sex to be a sin).
I described how wrong this plan was in a blog post, ending it with this semi-satirical Onion'esque passage:
City officials in Salem choose gay-hating church to house public library, tell LGBTQ people to head to Portland or Eugene if they want to read books during next two years
SALEM, OREGON -- Last Monday the Salem City Council voted 6-1 to pay the Salem Alliance Church for use of a building the church owns as a temporary public library, ignoring pleas from members of the LGBTQ community.
"We won't use the library if it is in a building owned by a church that considers us second-class citizens," said one exceedingly gay person wearing a purple blazer and a perfectly matching tie who testified at the council meeting, wiping away tears as they spoke.
City officials came in for criticism after claiming that in Oregon's capital city, which has a popularion of over 160,000, there were no other buildings available to lease with 16,000 square feet of empty space.
When asked to comment on this claim, a commercial realtor in Salem fell to the ground laughing uproariously for a full five minutes, then said, "Great joke! You're kidding me, right?"
A spokesman for the City of Salem issued this statement at a news conference where reporters asked how anyone could think it was a good idea to house the public library in the most un-gay-friendly building in the city.
"Hey, this is Salem. We aren't exactly known for being cutting-edge in anything, including human rights. Anyone who lives here and is lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or whatever the heck 'Q' stands for, should understand that Portland and Eugene are the LGBTQ hot spots in western Oregon.
They've got public libraries that would be glad to check out books to members of our community who have the unreasonable expectation of using a library building that isn't owned by a homophobic organization. Just an hour's drive away, assuming you don't hit a traffic jam, which, in the case of Portland, is pretty much anytime. Suck it up, gay people."
So again, I'm convinced City of Salem officials all-too-often are on the wrong track when it comes to important policy decisions Why this is happening is unclear.
The leaders of an organization create a climate within which employees operate. So the City Manager, Steve Powers, bears the most responsibility for what's been going wrong at City Hall. Problem is, I don't sense much enthusiasm or interest among City Council members in ending those screw-ups.
Which means, likely we can expect more things going wrong at the City of Salem in the future.
UPDATE: Yikes! I forgot to include this tweet from Salem's famous Angry Owl about huge cost overruns on the new Police Facility being built by the City of Salem. But, hey, what's a few million dollars to City officials? They can always get citizens to pay more in taxes. Which just happened.