So what's the big deal about City of Salem staff misleading the City Council and citizens, as I wrote about yesterday in "City officials misled citizens about temporary library location"? That post started out this way:
The key thing I wanted to learn from a City of Salem public records request that ended up costing me $844.85 was whether City officials were telling the truth when they said this in a staff report for the July 22, 2019 City Council meeting.
"The former Capital Press building (Site) at 1400-1440 Broadway Street NE (corner of Hood and Broadway) is the best and only option available to the City that meets the project schedule and site criteria."
"Best and only option." NOT TRUE. This is decidedly disturbing for those of us who value transparency and honesty in our public servants.
Well, this is a big deal not just because City officials wrongly claimed that the Capital Press building owned by the Salem Alliance Church was the only option for a temporary library, even though the Salem Human Rights Commission urged those officials to find another location even if it cost more and was less operationally efficient, because the church denies fundamental LGBTQ rights, and many supporters of those rights said they wouldn't use the library while it was being leased from an organization that is gay-unfriendly.
Yes, people are entirely justified in being angry at how City of Salem staff selectively pushed forward facts that supported their desire to use the Capital Press building, while hiding facts that showed other locations were viable possibilities.
I learned the truth about the deception by City officials because (1) I followed this issue closely from the beginning; (2) I was willing to pay a lot of money for public records related to the search for a temporary library location; and (3) I had the time and inclination to ask questions of City staff and commercial realtors.
All that shouldn't be necessary. Our taxpayer-funded public servants should live up to their job description: serve the public!
Which includes being straightforward, honest, and transparent about policy issues that come before the City Council. This is a must for several reasons, including the fact that Salem's Mayor and city councilors are volunteers with no staff of their own.
They rely on City of Salem staff reports to provide them with sound factual information needed to make wise votes on matters that come before the City Council. When City officials fail to do that, they're using their position of power and influence in a decidedly unseemly manner.
As noted in my first blog post about this issue, City staff knew that choosing the church-owned building for a temporary library was highly controversial. They knew that the Human Rights Commission had voted unanimously to approve a statement urging that another location be found. They knew that some members of the LGBTQ community wouldn't use the public library if it was housed in the church-owned building.
So the situation called for a staff report that openly addressed the controversy, shared factual data about the pros and cons of various locations that could serve as a temporary library, and laid out options for the City Council to discuss, debate, and ultimately vote on.
None of that happened. Instead, City of Salem staff issued a self-serving staff report that wrongly claimed the Capital Press building was the only option. Some people will choose to call this a falsehood. I call it a lie.
That matters, because the agenda for just about every City Council meeting contains staff reports.
Now that we know the staff report for the Capital Press lease failed to present cogent facts that were known to City officials, but were held back because those facts didn't support the option favored by City of Salem staff, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to trust future staff reports about other issues.
I listened to audio recordings of the City Council's Library Renovation Subcommittee. Several times I heard Sarah Strahl, the library director, say that she really hoped not all of the funds in the $957,000 relocation budget would be spent, so the library could use the savings for other needs.
Fine. That sentiment could have been shared in a staff report. But that desire by Strahl and others shouldn't have driven the hiding of facts about alternatives to the Capital Press building, since the Human Rights Commission had said that another location should be selected even if it cost more.
I also heard Councilor Jim Lewis say that he didn't like Liberty Plaza because he believes people avoid parking garages. And I heard another person say at a subcommittee meeting that he didn't like another building on Broadway because it was so close to the Keizer city limits.
Also fine. Put those sentiments in a staff report too, if they were part of the reasons for not preferring one of the alternative locations for a temporary library. But don't play games with the City Council and citizenry.
City of Salem staff have the power to hide facts that don't fit with what they want to see happen. That's what happened in this case. It shouldn't happen again. In Washington D.C. we're seeing what occurs when government officials feel they have the right to do whatever they want to do.
Actually, they don't. Legally and ethically, public officials here in Salem, as elsewhere, should act as agents of the public interest. They need to submerge their personal desires in pursuit of a higher good.
I'll end by sharing a highly cogent message that I got from Jim Scheppke, who served as the State Librarian for 20 years and is an avid library supporter.
He believes Liberty Plaza was a fine alternative to the Capital Press building, and points out that City staff failed to get a recommendation from the Library Advisory Board regarding the location of a temporary library, as appears to be required by a city ordinance.
Here's what Scheppke said: