These days every scandalous revelation pertaining to public officials demands a name that ends in "gate."
So I'm calling the tell-all report of an applicant for the City of Salem's (Oregon) Urban Forester position Urban Forestergate. Yeah, not very creative. But it works for me.
Yesterday I shared the applicant's report of a three-day visit to Salem from New York at the City of Salem's expense in "Devastating critique of Salem's Urban Forester program by a job applicant."
Today I talked with this person by phone and got additional details about their job interview/audition experience in Salem.
I found myself saying That's really strange so often, I decided to fashion this follow-up blog post from a list of some of the stranger strangenesses that the applicant (who wishes to remain anonymous, but obviously is known to City officials) conveyed to me in their original message and today's phone conversation.
Of course, I have doubts about whether anybody at the City of Salem really cares about all this. There have been well-documented problems involving how City officials mismanage our town's urban trees for many years.
Yet Public Works Director Peter Fernandez remains in charge of the Urban Forestry program. City Manager Steve Powers, Mayor Chuck Bennett, and the City Council haven't done much to improve things. So I could be whistling in the blog post wind.
But the applicant for the Urban Forester position sees serious problems with how trees are cared for in Salem, and so do I. Thus some whistling is called for, even if it goes unheard by those in power at City Hall.
Here's seven strange things about Urban Forestergate. I'm framing them as questions that someone at the City of Salem should be asking (though like I said, City officials may very well ignore the questions).
(1) Why is it so difficult to fill this position? I'm not sure when the Urban Forester position opening was announced. Regardless, no certified arborist was hired after the first batch of applicants was assessed. Now the position is open again for a two-week period, September 24 to October 7. It seems strange that no qualified Urban Forester candidate was found to work in a state known for its trees and livability.
(2) Is Peter Fernandez looking for a malleable person who won't disagree with him? This was the conclusion of the person who spent three days in Salem interviewing for the Urban Forester position. It fits with the reputation of Fernandez as someone who is avidly pro-development and anti-tree preservation. It may well be that competent independent fact-based arborists are being passed over until Fernandez finds a lackey who will comply with his tree-cutting desires.
(3) Is Jennifer Kellar qualified to be the Parks and Recreation Services manager? The applicant found her spectacularly uninformed and inexperienced regarding trees and parks. Maybe she's better at recreation. Was there an open process for filling her position, or did Peter Fernandez choose her on his own not for her qualifications, but because he knew she wouldn't challenge him? Inquiring minds would like to know.
(4) Why does Salem have such a pitiful Urban Forestry program? Salem has a history of allowing significant trees, including protected white oaks, to be cut down for no good reason. The City of Salem devotes few resources to its Urban Forestry program compared to other comparable cities, according to the applicant. Yet trees are a top priority of residents. Why such a difference between citizen expectations and reality?
(5) How often does the City of Salem pay the travel expenses for a job applicant? The applicant I talked with today had passed on interviewing for other arborist positions on the West Coast because it would cost too much to fly from New York. Yet after a Skype interview, the City of Salem paid for this person's airfare, car rental, and lodging at the Grand Hotel. They were appreciative of this. But how common is it?
(6) Is it typical to not tell a job applicant if they were hired, or not? I asked the applicant what happened after his three-day trip from New York to Salem for an interview at the City of Salem's expense. I was told that no one ever contacted him one way or the other. Meaning, he wasn't notified if he got the Urban Forester job. Of course, the position has been re-opened. But if City officials want to attract high quality candidates, they should treat them fairly and openly.
(7) Is using crutches temporarily a no-no for a City of Salem job applicant? Among other strange things the applicant described about their interview/audition process was feeling "quiet nervous freakout energy" when they met the interview team for the first time after arriving in Salem -- walking in with the aid of crutches. Reportedly the applicant had told City staff about a foot injury that necessitated the use of crutches temporarily. Plus, the Urban Forester position doesn't require the ability to climb trees. Not putting the applicant at ease seems like a decided lack of courtesy at best, and possible discrimination, at worst.
I'll end by saying that part of my phone conversation with the Urban Forester applicant involved some talk about the difference between New York and Oregon styles of communicating.
I like New York-style bluntness. That was on display in the applicant's message to me that I shared yesterday where they criticized numerous aspects of Salem's Urban Forestry program and the competence of people involved with it in a pleasingly direct manner.
Personally, and I know quite a few local tree-lovers who agree with me, I'd prefer to have a rather abrasive Urban Forester who goes all out to preserve, protect, and plant trees, than a "yes man" or "yes woman" who goes along with what their superiors at the City of Salem want to have happen, tree-wise, even if it is detrimental to our town's urban forest.
What worries me, and also the applicant, is that City officials in charge of hiring the next Urban Forester seem to be more concerned with finding a team player who won't make waves, rather than the most qualified and competent person for this job.
Will the City Manager step in and oversee the hiring process? I doubt it, given the lack of interest Steve Powers has shown in having a strong Urban Forestry program so far. But I could be wrong. I hope that I am.