As Alice in Wonderland said, curiouser and curiouser. That's how I felt today about the Salem City Council after taking a closer look at the public records I got regarding the city's purchase of a house on Taybin Road in West Salem.
My first blog post based on the records was "Salem City Council bamboozled by staff on Taybin Road property purchase." But now I'm wondering if the council is bamboozling itself. Or at least, acting at odds with itself, which is much the same thing.
As background, below is an image showing the portion of Marine Drive that the West Salem Neighborhood Association wanted to have built, according to a 2017 Salem Breakfast on Bikes post. That post shared their position.
Amend the City of Salem budget to remove $3,542,920 of funding from the Project No. 711503 to construct Marine Drive from Glen Creek Road to Cameo Street and redirect the funding to Project No. 61463 to purchase right-of-way and begin construction of Marine Drive from 5th Avenue to Harritt Drive.
Note that Taybin Road is in the middle of the portion of a planned Marine Drive that the neighborhood association didn't want to have built. The arguments why this makes sense can be found in the Breakfast on Bikes post.
Now, let's fast forward to a June 10, 2019 City Council meeting where an amendment to the upcoming City of Salem budget was approved that said essentially the same thing: only acquire right-of-way for Marine Drive between 5th Avenue NW and River Bend Road NW, which meant don't acquire right of way south of Cameo Street at 5th Avenue.
Everything is straightforward so far. The City Council voted to only acquire right-of-way for a section of Marine Drive that clearly didn't include the portion around Taybin Road.
But as I discussed in my previous post, the public records I got show that Peter Fernandez wanted to buy the Taybin Road house for Marine Drive right-of-way as early as 2017. It turned out not to be for sale at that time.
However, after Jim Vick bought the house and .9 acre lot for $200,000 in 2019, Fernandez and other city officials worked to do a "quick flip" of that transaction, eventually paying about double for what it cost Vick about six months previously.
Problem was, the City Council had voted to ban the use of transportation funds for purchasing right-of-way in the Taybin Road area where the house was located. So Fernandez' scheme to buy that property seemed to be stymied.
Not really, though.
The Public Works Director and other city officials decided to use Stormwater SDC (system development charge) money to pay for the Taybin Road house, even though the public records show there was no intention to use the property for stormwater management, just for Marine Drive right-of-way.
How did Fernandez and Company get away with this? This is where things get curious. Meaning, even more curious than I described in my first post about the public records.
Now, we get into some City of Salem staff machinations. On June 10, 2019 the City Council had limited purchases of Marine Drive right-of-way to the area north of Cameo Street. Taybin Road was south of Cameo. Oops. What to do?
Given the City Council order, it wouldn't be possible to use transportation funds to buy the Taybin Road property for Marine Drive right-of-way. One would think that this would have put an end to the efforts by city staff to do that. But if one thinks that, they don't undertand how wily City of Salem staff can be when they want to get around a City Council policy decision.
Dameron tells Vick's realtor that they need some time to find funding sources other than transportation funds.
A few weeks later, Dameron tells Mike, the realtor, that Peter Fernandez still wants to pursue the Taybin Road purchase but needs to use a different funding source, and wants to discuss it with the City Council as buying right of way for Marine Drive south of Cameo would "deviate from their direction."
I'd been assuming that when an Executive Session (private meeting of the City Council with staff to discuss the proposed property purchase) was held, Fernandez and other city officials downplayed the Marine Drive right-of-way reason for buying the Taybin Road house, since as noted above this conflicted with the June vote by the council to purchase right-of-way in that area.
Today, though, I noticed an email in the public records that had previously escaped my attention.
Well, damn! The plot to buy right-of-way in an area forbidden by the City Council was hiding in plain sight. Of course, I have no way of knowing if Fernandez and his co-conspirators were so open in what they told members of the City Council in the Executive Session.
But since these seem to be the logical possibilities of what transpired at the secretive Executive Session, something is wrong under either possibility.
(1) Peter Fernandez and perhaps other city staff misled the City Council by falsely claiming that the primary reason for the Taybin Road purchase was for stormwater management, not Marine Drive right-of-way. This would have been a lie, so wrong.
(2) Peter Fernandez and perhaps other city staff admitted that they wanted to use Stormwater SDC funds for a right-of-way purchase that had been forbidden by the City Council in June. When the Council went along with this, they were making a back-room deal with themselves, so wrong.
I'm not sure which of these options is correct. Hopefully Executive Sessions aren't like Las Vegas, where whatever happens there, stays there.
The public needs to know whether city staff bamboozled the City Council, or whether the City Council is bamboozling citizens by agreeing in an Executive Session to buy Marine Drive right-of-way in an area that was put off-limits to such purchases by the action the council took in June 2019. Meaning, councilors were saying one thing in public about plans for Marine Drive, and doing another thing in private.
In either case, public trust has been trampled on.