The more I communicate with City Manager Steve Powers about the truth of what happened with the highly controversial selection of a building owned by the Salem Alliance Church to serve as a temporary public library (the church denies basic LGBTQ rights), the more Powers comes across as sort of a Donald Trump wanna-be.
Meaning, Powers keeps doubling down on his false statements, even when I present indisputable facts that contradict what Powers is saying.
This should bother the Mayor, City Council, and other citizens. A lot.
Why? Because the City Manager is the top non-elected official for the City of Salem. As I said in a previous post, it's a big deal when the City Manager and other city staff can't be trusted to speak the truth. And pretty clearly, they can't. At least, not always.
After I wrote a blog post called "City Manager Steve Powers makes false statements about temporary library location," I got an email from Powers that contained more false statements. You can read what Powers said below. First, though, I'm sharing my reply to Powers that I sent to him on October 30.
I haven't gotten a reply yet, so I'm assuming that Powers doesn't have any facts to back up his false assertions.
Though I'm winning this Truth Battle, I don't take any pleasure in my victory. I'd much rather have our local public officials (1) tell the truth, and (2) be able to back up their statements when people like me call them out on a falsehood.
We already have a president who lies incessantly. I'm not saying that City Manager Powers is in the same league as Donald Trump, but Powers does seem very unwilling to admit when he's wrong -- which isn't a good quality for a public official.
Here's my response to Powers, which, again, has been unchallenged so far.
Steve, I’ve reviewed 1,245 pages of public records related to this issue. And...
I’ve listened to recordings of most of three Library Renovation council subcommittee meetings. i’ve spoken three times with the person in charge of leasing Liberty Plaza, Dennis Randazzo. I’ve gotten answers from Norm Wright to questions about how City officials assessed Liberty Plaza. I’ve heard from Jim Scheppke, the State Librarian for 20 years, on how he judged the suitability of Liberty Plaza for a temporary library.
But maybe you are in possession of facts that haven’t been made public. So send me the documentation if you consider that any of the following facts in my possession are wrong.
(1) City officials never prepared a total budget showing how the $957,000 total relocation budget would be spent — meaning with breakdowns between lease costs, temporary improvements, moving costs, and such. This wasn’t done for Capital Press and it wasn’t done for Liberty Plaza. Thus there is no documentation showing that the cost of leasing Liberty Plaza would have exceeded the $957,000 budget.
(2) City officials were aware that the Human Rights Commission had called for another location other than Capital Press be chosen, even if the alternative location cost more and wasn’t as operationally efficient.
(3) City officials, notably library director Sara Strahl, said they were looking forward to not spending all of the relocation budget so the unspent money could be used for other library needs. Thus these officials were largely focused on cost, not the valid concerns expressed by the Human Rights Commission about many supporters of LGBTQ rights not being willing to use the library if it was housed in space leased by the LGBTQ-unfriendly Salem Alliance Church.
(4) City officials didn’t prepare an estimate of the cost of temporary improvements to Liberty Plaza.
(5) City officials knew that Liberty Plaza and Capital Press received equal ratings on the four criteria used to assess the suitability of possible locations for a temporary library.
(6) City officials never engaged in serious discussions with the person in charge of leasing Liberty Plaza, Dennis Randazzo. Because this didn’t happen, City officials failed to learn what I did from a phone conversation with Randazzo. Namely, that the owner of Liberty Plaza was willing to negotiate the lease cost per square foot, and a flexible amount of space was available on other floors that didn’t require leasing of the entire first and second floors, as City staff wrongly assumed in a cost estimate for Liberty Plaza.
(7) City officials never asked the Library Advisory Board to express an opinion about which location should be used for a temporary library, as appears to be required by a city ordinance.
(8) The relocation of the library will not happen until February of next year, based on what I’ve been told by someone who learned this from a Library Advisory Board member. So there was plenty of time for temporary improvements to be made to Liberty Plaza. To repeat, though, no estimate of the cost of temporary improvements to Liberty Plaza ever was prepared, so there is no way to know how long making the improvements would have taken, since City officials never documented what improvements needed to be made.
I look forward to hearing from you if you can document that any of the eight facts I’ve listed above are wrong.
This is a productive discussion, because getting at the truth of the search for a temporary library means a lot to supporters of LGBTQ rights in Salem. This morning I heard from someone who was deeply grateful that I got the public records and have been reporting on what actually happened, in contrast to how City officials “spun” what happened.
I am writing to correct your assertion that I have made false statements. In response to your repeated statements of opinion, please consider:
(1) As cited by you in your Oct. 22 post, the total cost per SF for Liberty Plaza is 40% higher than Capital Press.
Yes. So? As noted above, the Human Rights Commission said that a location other than the church-owned Capital Press building should be chosen even if it cost more. The question isn't whether Liberty Plaza cost more than Capital Press, but whether it was a feasible alternative location, which it sure seemed to be.
(2) You compare the total lease cost between buildings by assuming the exact same amount of space leased in each. You base this on after-the-fact communication with the leasing agent that additional flexible space was available above or below the main floor.
If City of Salem staff had picked up the phone and talked with the Liberty Plaza leasing agent, as I did, they could have easily had a "before the fact" communication. Instead, those staff made a rush to judgement that the church-owned building should serve as a temporary library without bothering to take a close look at Liberty Plaza and likely other locations.
(3) While technically possible, making modifications to carve out that extra space would have added to the cost and time necessary to prepare the building for library use.
As I said above, City staff never came up with a list of the temporary improvements that would need to be made to Liberty Plaza, nor did they prepare an estimate of the cost of these improvements. The Capital Press building also needed temporary improvements that were estimated to cost $264,704. That's a big expense, and the improvements will take time to construct, so why was it OK to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to prepare the church-owned building for library use, but not OK to do the same for Liberty Plaza?
(4) You suggest that the owners could have been made responsible for those improvement costs. The owners of Liberty Plaza communicated their intent to sell the building. While willing to work with the City, it was evident that the owners, or any building owner, would be unlikely to pay for substantial tenant improvement renovations, especially since the City was interested in only a short-term lease.
I never suggested the owners of Liberty Plaza were willing to pay for the temporary improvements. What I said is the truth: the owners of Liberty Plaza were willing to negotiate the cost of leasing space for a temporary library, but City staff never engaged in those negotiations.
(5) Another factor to consider is schedule. The amount of work required (regardless of the cost) would have been difficult to complete in time to get space ready and complete the move from the Main Library. The risk of delaying bond project construction is a significant factor and was another point in favor of Capital Press. Capital Press required much less work to get ready.
To repeat, City staff never produced a list of needed temporary improvements for Liberty Plaza, nor a budget for those improvements, so obviously they had no idea how long it would take to make the improvements. Further, like I said above, apparently the new date for having the library in a temporary location is February 2020, so there was plenty of time to make temporary improvements to Liberty Plaza.
(6) Even if the City were able to create the same amount of space as Capital Press with an equal amount of improvement cost within the required schedule, the cost would still be 40% more. Even in this very best case, the added cost comes to about $164,000. There are many other expenses in the temporary relocation besides the lease. There is not room in the temporary relocation budget for an additional $164,000.
As noted above, City staff never prepared a total budget for all of the costs associated with a temporary library location. All that existed was a total budget of $957,000. So City staff couldn't know whether there was room in the budget for an extra $164,000, since nothing in the documents I received via my public records request backs up this assertion.
City of Salem|Mayor/City Manager’s Office