I thought I couldn't get any more irritated at the Salem City Council and City officials, and I was plenty mad before, but now I'm way more pissed off.
I just learned that those officials have signed a contract with the Salem Alliance Church to lease a building owned by the church for a temporary public library, even though City Council rules allow for reconsideration of any council decision at the next meeting, which is August 12.
The City Council voted to approve the lease on a 6-1 vote at the July 22 council meeting. But this was a hugely controversial issue. And two councilors were absent, Tom Andersen and Sally Cook. Jackie Leung was the sole sane vote in opposition to this crazy idea.
A headline in a Willamette Week story about this issue that came out a few days ago sums up the situation nicely.
The Salem Human Rights Commission unanimously said that another location for a temporary library should be chosen even if it cost more and was less efficient operationally, because the Salem Alliance Church rejects LGBTQ rights and their Broadway Coffee House has been the subject of a boycott due to the church's discriminatory practices.
There are alternative locations to house a temporary library, such as Liberty Plaza, which was one of the top three choices of the Library Renovation Subcommittee. Virtually everybody who submitted written or verbal testimony to the City Council was against using the church-owned Capital Press building.
And people have been contacting the Mayor and city councilors urging that the City Council reconsider approval of the Salem Alliance Church lease agreement at the council's next meeting on August 12. Reconsideration is allowed by a City Council rule.
Yet a little while ago I learned that City staff went ahead and signed the Salem Alliance Church contract, thereby taking away the ability for this issue to be reconsidered by the City Council -- essentially screaming a loud Screw you! at supporters of LGBTQ rights in Salem.
Margaret Stephens conveyed the contract-signing news via a comment on the Save Our Books at Salem Public Library Facebook page. Here's what Stephens wrote. I've boldfaced a portion that deserves emphasis.
Jackie Leung, the sole no vote on the use of Salem Alliance Church property for the temporary Library, kindly responded to my questions about whether anything could be done at this point. She said:
"Because I voted no, I am not able to ask for a reconsideration. One of the councilors, such as Councilor Kaser, who voted yes, will need to call it up. I can issue a plea at the council meeting for reconsideration, though no one may do so.
It also depends on if city council already signed a lease with SAC. If it has already been signed, I am afraid that there is no way to stop it from moving forward. As a frequent library user, it also concerns me about the use of the Capitol Press and what it means to our community.
Thank you for your email. Please continue reaching out to Councilor Kaser. Perhaps she will be willing to request a reconsideration if it is not too late."
Then I found out that the lease has been already signed. But before that, I contacted Councilor Cara Kaser (Ward 1, in which I live). Here is what she wrote:
"I hope you either watched live or the recording of City Council meeting when this issue was discussed. Councilor Chris Hoy summed up my position on this issue exactly. If you didn’t get a chance to watch Councilor Hoy’s remarks, I hope that you will.
The Library sub-committee charged with finding a temporary build to house the library collection recommended this location after going through several other properties. For one reason and another, the former Capital Press building was the only feasible site to relocate the library and met the sub-committee’s criteria for relocation.
The building is owned by a religious organization but the building itself is not a religious building (i.e. it’s not a church, sanctuary, chapel, etc.). Also, the building will be under lease and operated by the City, and not by a religious organization.
The City will follow it’s own ordinances and codes of conduct while the library is at this temporary location, just as it follows rules now at the permanent library site. Because of this, I believe that the temporary location for the library will be a welcoming and accepting place for all members of our community, just like our permanent library location is now."
Since I already knew that the property was owned by SAC and not a "religious" building, the only thing to take away from Councilor Kaser's comment is that her position was the same as Hoy's.
And Hoy's pertinent comment was that basically "if we (the City) scrutinizes all entities that the City does business with, it is a slippery slope"
...And my comment regarding that is that if the City does NOT look at the policies of entities, then THAT is the real slippery slope.
Would the City do business with an entity with an avowed white nationalist agenda? Would the City do business with an entity that was against marriage between different races? I think not.
So why are LGBTQIA people, their friends, allies, and loved ones being thrown under the bus? Answer that please, "progressive" council members.
Councilors Hoy, Kaser, and Ausec, each of whom claims to be progressive, along with Mayor Bennett and councilors Lewis and Nanke, all knew full well that the Human Rights Commission and LGBTQ community in Salem understood that the temporary library was going to be operated by City staff, not by the church.
That was irrelevant to supporters of LGBTQ rights. Which makes what Councilor Kaser said above, and what Councilor Hoy said at the July 22 council meeting, also irrelevant.
What mattered is what Stephens said: the Salem Alliance Church opposes LGBTQ rights.
The church rejects same-sex marriage and views same-sex sex as a sin. The church refuses to say whether it abides by anti-discrimination laws in its Broadway Coffee House hiring practices.
Yet not only does the City of Salem see no problem with paying almost $500,000 to the Salem Alliance Church to house a temporary library that won't be used by members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters, it rushed ahead with signing the lease contract in order to prevent public opinion from forcing a reconsideration vote at the August 12 council meeting.
UPDATE: I just realized that there's a decent chance one or more of the six members of the City Council who voted to go ahead with leasing the church owned library for a temporary library pressed City staff to sign the Salem Alliance Church lease before the next council meeting to avoid the spectacle of a reconsideration request being discussed at the meeting.
Also, here's a cogent comment from ardent library supporter Jim Scheppke that he left on a Facebook page where I shared this blog post:
"I agree with Brian that the City staff should have waited until after the August 12th meeting to sign the lease to allow Councilors Cook and Andersen to weigh in on this issue on behalf of their constituents. We heard at the last meeting from substitute Councilor Evan White that Councilor Cook was opposed to leasing the church property. I would not be surprised to learn that Councilor Andersen is also opposed.
There was very little discussion of the issue at the last meeting because it came at the end of a long meeting and the Councilors were clearly rushing through the end of the agenda as they often do. A decision that affects a large portion of the community (LGBTQ citizens and their friends, family and supporters and others who care deeply about human rights) should not be railroaded. I also disagree that the church building was the only viable choice. I think that's false. It was the cheapest choice."
Disgusting. Outrageous. Shameful. And those are the least profane words that spring to mind.
Yesterday I paid $476.80 to the City of Salem for the required fee to get public records related to the selection of the church-owned Capital Press building for a temporary library.
I submitted the public records request because I figured there was a good chance I'd get the documents prior to the August 12 City Council meeting where a reconsideration might have been discussed.
I figured wrong, failing to anticipate that City officials would forestall reconsideration by rushing ahead with signing the contract, even though the library won't start moving into a temporary location until December.
However, I'm still glad that I'm getting the documents and emails, because I believe the public needs to understand as clearly as possible how this horrible choice of the Capital Press building happened.