Mayor Bennett's initial decision to assign Councilor Jackie Leung to only one Salem City Council committee (as an alternate, moreover) struck many people as a big deal about something, whereas I've come to see it as much ado about almost nothing.
I learned about what I'm tempted to call CommitteeGate (just gave in to that temptation) after reading several Facebook posts about this on a private progressive Facebook group.
Some city councilors got as many as five, six, or seven committee assignments. My first reaction was that it did seem strange that Leung got such little committee love from the Mayor.
Could this be due to the fact that on some issues she has gone against the prevailing City Council view, including the positions of fellow progressives?
That was one possibility, though it seemed unlikely to me. Sure, that's something Donald Trump would do, but Mayor Bennett is no Trump, thankfully.
Meaning, Bennett is a politician, along with the other members of the City Council.
However, stiffing a member on committee assignments because he disagreed with her on certain issues seemed most unlikely to me. Bennett isn't adverse to playing hardball, yet this would have been mudball -- too obvious and dirty.
Numerous comments on the Facebook posts accused Mayor Bennett of racism and sexism for not assigning a woman of color to City Council committees.
This struck me as being both over-the-top and unbelievable. Sure, racism and sexism are very much present in Salem, which includes City Hall.
Sometimes, though, unfortunate things happen to women of color which have nothing to do with them being a woman, or a person of color.
So jumping to a conspiracy theory just because the initial 2021 Salem City Council Committee Assignments gave Councilor Leung only one alternate slot struck me as unjustified.
Yesterday I decided to simply ask Mayor Bennett about this via an email.
Chuck, could you explain why at first you didn’t assign Councilor Leung to any City Council committees? That got quite a bit of attention on Facebook, and I was among those who thought this seemed decidedly strange.
This is the response I got on Monday night, following yesterday's City Council meeting.
Hi Brian, Jackie didn’t contact me about committee assignments and had asked last year not to be on one because of time. Last week I sent out the proposed assignments to councilors seeking reaction and heard nothing back til this morning. Over the past couple of months all of the other councilors contacted me about their interest in certain committees. So, I just assumed she was fine with not adding to her load. I was wrong. Tom called and offered two of his assignments and I put in one of mine. She’s on Rules, City Manager Evaluation, Finance and Water/Waste water.
That sounded eminently believable to me. Others might disagree, but in general I lean toward accepting what someone says unless there is good reason to think otherwise.
It seems like there was a failure to communicate, as the saying goes. Apparently Councilor Leung didn't make her 2021 committee wishes known in a timely fashion, so Mayor Bennett assumed she didn't want to be on any, as was true in 2020.
Sure, Bennett could have made more of an effort to confirm this, just as Leung could have made more of an effort to respond to the Mayor's proposed committee assignments.
Sometimes mistakes are just that. Well, usually mistakes are just mistakes. However, in the realm of politics, even local politics, there is a tendency to read more into a mishap than is actually there.
I've been guilty of that. Most of us have. We want to categorize actions, and people, into good and bad categories -- whereas much or most of the time this is making a morality play out of a simple screw-up.
Anyway, Councilor Leung now is on four committees, albeit as an alternate for two of them.