We all remember how 9,000 voters signed a citizen’s “parking meter petition” last summer.  The petition was a reaction to the threat of paid parking in the downtown district, which had been recently recommended by the Mayor’s Parking Task Force.  It was an effort to put the issue of free parking for downtown Salem customers on the May ballot.  It was meant to tell the city that citizens didn’t like the idea of paid downtown parking.

The people who signed the petition were only a small percentage of voters registered in the city, and they were educated by volunteers on street corners; they weren’t the people who had been elected to make the city work, or who are paid to make the city work.

So it is a shame that, instead of honoring the intention of The People, instead of letting the petition stand for the voice of citizens, the very officials who are most informed and experienced – implemented the petition overnight rather than letting it go to a public vote in May.

Literally overnight.  The City Council discussed the petition on October 14.  They voted to enact it immediately – October 15.  Just

weeks before the holidays , the most important time of year for downtown.

In doing this, Salem’s City Council let the people of Salem down.  They let downtown businesses down.

Had the council let the people vote in May as the petitioners wished, the city could have had time to figure out strategies to make it work better on the chance it was approved, so it could successfully express the will of the people.

The City would have had months to prepare plans for new signs, for memos to other governmental agencies, for letters to employers that had real force behind them.

Instead, it instituted a plan that started “tomorrow.”

No matter what side of the issue you’re on, wouldn’t YOU have liked to have had a voice?  Don’t YOU think it would have helped to have had a community discussion, editorials in newspapers and on blogs about the upcoming vote – and then been able to vote yourself?

If downtown is in trouble now, it seems the responsibility lies with City Council and our downtown councilor – not with city staff or the public .  Because councilors implemented a plan they almost all said on October 14 was a bad idea.

And by approving the petition overnight, the Council has opened itself to criticism that it  didn’t ever want it to succeed.

Walk down a Salem downtown street, talk to a downtown business owner, and what you hear is: the city set the free parking up to fail so they could then put in the meters they wanted all along.  You hear it on every block; the inevitable failure of free parking is just an excuse to justify installing meters down the road.

Some think the trouble began when the Mayor’s Parking Task Force didn’t include representation of small downtown businesses in their discussions in the first place.  They believe the petition was a “push back” from businesses who felt unheard by the Task Force’s zeal to set up meters in front of their business.

And if this theory is correct, can you blame these same businesses for feeling like the city is retaliating against them when – after the petition was in play – the City added insult to injury by stopping letting businesses use the 30-min spots for loading?  Or for abruptly doubling the minimum downtown parking tax on the smallest businesses?

Had the City Council, Mayor and City Manager worked with the small businesses from the get-go, had they included them in the Parking Task Force and “heard” their ideas and concerns, the petition would likely never have come to light.  Had they respected the wishes of the People, they’d have worked in good faith to make the People’s will be realized with a city-wide discussion and vote.

As it was, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the folks that elect our officials or pay their salaries.  Implementing new rules just prior to the holiday season, without adequate discussion, strategizing and support was heartless.  It hurt downtown businesses that the city should be supporting and protecting.

The city must learn to listen to its people, to act in response to the wishes of its people.  Currently on this issue, it is estranged from its people .  And the people certainly feel it.


What do you think?