Democracy is not working very well in Salem and I’m convinced our daily newspaper is a big part of the problem.

For democracy to work, citizens have to be informed about the issues that elected officials are working on. For local issues, like those at the Salem City Council, that job falls mostly to the press.

There was a time, not too long ago, when our daily paper had reporters who previewed the issues that were before the Salem City Council so that citizens could be informed. If there was going to be a public hearing, reading a newspaper story was often the stimulus to get citizens to attend the meeting and participate. The day following the meeting there would be a complete report in the paper of every important item that the council dealt with and voted on

How far we have come from that time. Here’s a case in point:

On Monday, January 13th, the Salem City Council called a public hearing on a new cell tower ordinance that many feel does not strike a good balance between the needs of the industry for more, taller, towers located near residences, and the needs of residents not to have to live under a cell tower and see the value of their property reduced by as much as 20%.

This is a very important issue that could alter the livability of our neighborhoods in profound ways.

I was hoping for full coverage of the issue in our daily paper over the weekend before the hearing. But there was nothing. Perhaps on the Monday of the meeting? That day the front page headline story reported on the Golden Globe awards. There was nothing in the paper about the public hearing.

When I attended the council meeting that evening the gallery wasn’t even half full and only a handful of citizens testified about the cell phone towers, most representing neighborhood associations. You would think this would be a hot issue, and that many citizens would be there protesting the possibility of a cell tower springing up within 30 feet of their property line.

I think citizens did not participate in the public hearing because they were uninformed. Simple as that.

The next day I opened the daily paper hoping to at least find a report of the public hearing that might begin to inform the public. The record had been left open by the council, so there was still time for citizens to learn about the issue and comment in writing. But I searched the paper in vain. Not a word about the council meeting or the public hearing.

The headline that day: “Dog attacks, kills puppy at complex.”

 

Jim Scheppke was the State Librarian of Oregon for two decades. In retirement he’s working on local issues with groups including NO 3rd Bridge and Salem Community Vision.