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July 02, 2021

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CM Powers comment that he wouldn't issue an emergency order unless the situation was so grave that the Federal government had to come to our rescue is without question the dumbest utterance ever made by a municipal official in the history of Western Civilization. Think about it: no attempt to control fireworks unless the damage, either potential or actual, is so extreme that only the Feds can save us! Also, our fellow citizens should note that he deliberately avoids discussing the grief caused by fireworks to a large number of people and their pets. He just doesn't seem to give a rip! Finally, and unbelievably, he says such an order would have NO effect on fireworks usage. Its hard to imagine a public official arguing that he's not going to do the needful because everyone will ignore him.

An interview of former City Manager Bob Wells, conducted in 2012 by ELGL, a professional organization dedicated to improving local government, provides a deeper understanding of the challenges inherent in being a city manager within a city manager style of government such as we have in Salem, where political operatives compete for opportunities to further their agendas.

In it, Mr. Wells states that: "I think most city managers would say that managing the politics is the most difficult part of the job." He goes on to describe his formative experiences as an assistant to Larry Wacker, a Salem City Manager from the 90's: "I sat in the office next to his and I remember some of the elected officials would literally start screaming at him to try and influence his staff recommendations because they carried a lot of weight. The angrier they got, the quieter Larry got, which of course only made them angrier. But he never backed down and he never succumbed to political pressure. He was a staunch defender of the charter and of the Council-Manager form of government. He made the difficult recommendations and decisions that he felt were in the best interest of the community even if they were not politically popular. He created an environment where he took all the heat so that the staff could do their jobs."

Staff recommendations are options created by staff for Council consideration of issues that are presented to them for decisions. Ideally, they are informational and provide a sufficiently broad array of choices within a short list of best alternatives. While Council often defines what they want in the way of recommendations, it is still the duty of and challenge to an effective city manager to provide recommendations that are relatively apolitical. Therein lies the rub.

So you're dumping on the City Manager for not invoking some subjective emergency powers? Frankly, the City Councilors should ban the sale or use of fireworks within the city's limits except by permit/license (to allow for a controlled show downtown, should that be desired). But to blame the City Manager in this case is to ignore the role our Councilors should be taking. I know Councilor Andersen means well, but this issue is not going away and should be codified by the Council.

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