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The Council Chamber at City Hall was mostly empty because it was a Wednesday night and the meeting was poorly promoted. Predictably, there had been no articles about it in the Salem Statesman Journal in the days before the public hearing to inform the public about what was at issue. The public hearing conflicted with several meetings of neighborhood associations including one that was having their annual meeting.

At issue was whether to move forward with an $82 million bond measure in November to construct a 148,000 square foot police facility, which, if constructed, would be one of the largest and most expensive police facilities in Oregon.

Only 14 citizens signed up for testimony and it appeared that the first eight testifiers were all recruited by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. They all spoke in favor of what Councilor Steve McCoid would later call “the full meal deal.” Besides Chamber Director Dan Clem, there were three people who work for local construction companies, one who works in commercial real estate, and one retired police officer. One of the contractors testified that “as a citizen of Salem I would be willing to forego a few Starbucks a month” to build the full meal deal.

Mayor Peterson once said that she did not like “drama” at public hearings, and one way she has prevented too much drama is to occasionally hold hearings in which Councilors were not able to ask questions of citizens. That was the process on June 8th. And it worked. The 14 citizens each had their three minutes to speak and the hearing was over in under an hour. No drama.

After a lengthy discussion with the city finance staff about how bond sales could be structured to lessen the hit on taxpayers it was time for a pre-prepared motion from Council President McCoid to draft a November ballot measure for passage of an $82 million bond to build a 148,000 square foot police facility. If you watch the CCTV archive video of the meeting you will see the Mayor turn to McCoid, nod her head and say under her breath, “your motion.” The fix was in.

Councilor Tom Andersen, who has been trying for months at various Council meetings on the police facility to bring down the cost and include needed seismic retrofits of City Hall and the Library, tried for the last time. But his motions to save $10 million by removing the regional 9-1-1 call center from the plan, and to save additional money by removing an elevated parking deck, died for the lack of a second.

So the Mayor got what she wanted on June 8th, and so did the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce. It was a classic example of what we have seen in Salem for the past 14 years since the Chamber essentially took over our City government. The Chamber will say that this “top down” method of governance, where big decisions are made outside of the public eye, rubber stamped in a public meeting with no drama, and put to the voters with a big campaign funded by the Chamber will work. They will point to the successful 2008 Streets and Bridges Bond measure that they championed.

But that was 2008 and this is 2016. We have suffered through a Great Recession since then and many Salem families and seniors have never fully recovered. For many it is not a matter of foregoing “a few Starbucks a month.” When the public learns that Eugene met their need for a new police facility for $17 million and that the Oregon State Police just moved into a new headquarters building in Salem that only cost $30 million they will certainly question why the Salem needs “the full meal deal” for $82 million.

When Councilor Andersen was running for the Council in 2014 his campaign theme was about the need for “decision making from the bottom up and not the top down.” He ran on the idea that the only way for Salem to make progress in the future will be to fully engage citizens, hear their ideas, and make decisions that reflect their ideas. On November 8th this notion will be tested. The $82 million full meal deal has had almost no public engagement. It comes from the top down.

 

4 Comments

  1. Chuck Bennett

    Your editorial on the badly needed new police facility is interesting when contrasted with other editorial comments in the same online edition concerning poll findings from the National Taxpayers Union. I would also point out that council support for the police facility proposal was unanimous. That means all members of the council present voted for it including Councilor Andersen. Your suggestion that the police facility project was top down, developed without extensive public involvement and somehow comparable to the projects by the state police and Eugene just runs counter to the facts. I appreciate that members of your editorial board hold strong personal positions on each of these items but that doesn’t make them correct, just strongly held prejudices that have found their way onto your editorial page.

    • Susann Kaltwasser

      There is a tone in the comments by mayor-elect Chuck Bennett that serves to bolster the claim of the article. One who is supposed to be a leader should try not to denigrate those that he purports to want to lead.

      Citizens who have studied the issue of the police facility have raised significant questions about size and cost of the proposed project. Their concerns have not been well investigated. Too often they have been criticized for even asking the question and been labeled as ‘naysayers’ by Mr. Bennett.

      Citizens who want what is best for Salem should be listened to and their questions well considered before being rejected. In the end it will be the voters who decided, as it should be.

      Other communities have not only built police facilities for less cost per square foot, but they have passed local bonds. Part of the reason is that the projects were fiscally conservative and they came at the end of a very public participation process where the citizens were given multiple chances to participate in the design and features included in the project.

      Here in Salem there were two very controlled public hearings late in the process. One was to comment on a location. The choices were narrow to two only. Many citizens wondered aloud as to why they had only those choices. Fact was that the top-down process by the Council had already made their choice and it was just a formality to ask the citizens to comment. This is not good process designed to garner public support.

      The second public hearing was clearly orchestrated to try to demonstrate public support, but few citizens actually came to speak. In part this was because the hearing was not well publicized and also it was set so close to the last work-session where major plans were decided. Again a top-down decision making process not designed to actually engage the public.

      The fate of the police facility and the bond election to support it is very important. But even more important going into the next administration will be the attitude that is demonstrated towards the public. Will it be more open, inclusive and community-based, or will it be more of the same? Time will tell, but these comments are worrisome.

    • Geoffrey james

      The Top Down method of governing may work in some countries but it always results in poor projects. In the ten years we have been at this this first few years of council committee meetings with consultants all were completely secret, violating state law. Finally, the Mirror Pond proposal emerged, as the result of years of secret meetings, and the Proposals were promptly dismissed by the citizens as outrageous, i.e. the idea of draining our lake, and then building underground parking for $55,000 a space, is un-acceptable. So, $200,000 later, it was back to the drawing board. A Task Force recommended 75,000 to 105,000 sq.ft. and 200+ spaces on a 4+ acre site, and that the architect-consultant should go ahead and look at sites and the building size and layout. So $200,000 later it was back again to the drawing board. The Chicago consultant, who as an incentive, gets 9% of whatever the construction price is, recommended doubling the size to 148,000 sq.ft. No mention of price, yet. The O’Brien site (which had been studied in 2013) was selected. (plans were drawn and presented in 3D). Councilor Bennett then asked that the 4.5 acre site be trimmed to 3.5 acres. Consultant returned to Chicago to redesign it once again. Back to the drawing board. Finally the cost was revealed. Over $83M. Council accepted that outrageous amount, which five times what Eugene cost. So, the Polls tell us this is likely to fail. Only two public hearings in 10 years, with citizens limited to 180 seconds, and council not allowed to ask questions. Oh well, we can re-group in 2017 with a new council, and establish a sensible budget, i.e. one that will pass, and address the civic center dangerous building issue, that endangers hundreds of lives. Actually the ZGF Report in June 2013, although secret, was a fair solution. It recommended a 4.5 acre O’Brien site, 210 parking, and a 75,000 sq.ft. building, for under $30M plus $15M for the city hall seismic work. Total of $55.8M. How did they get off track? Answer: by hiring a Chicago consultant who doubled the price. There is similar expertise in Oregon, e.g. McKenzie Group, Portland, so the millions do not go out of state.
      Back to the drawing board.

    • Brian Hines

      Councilor Bennett, you are factually wrong when you claim that the City of Salem’s police facility planning didn’t occur in a top-down manner with essentially no public involvement.

      I’ve spent a lot of time researching documents about how City officials planned a new police facility from 2009 to 2014. The plain fact is that the process happened in a backwards way, secretively, with very little opportunity for citizen input.

      I’ve written up my findings in several blog posts. No one from the City of Salem, including yourself, has challenged the accuracy of what I’ve said. Check out the posts:

      http://hinessight.blogs.com/hinessight/2014/03/how-the-city-of-salem-decided-to-build-a-new-police-facility-at-the-civic-center.html

      http://hinessight.blogs.com/hinessight/2014/01/city-of-salem-planned-new-police-facility-in-backwards-way.html

      Here’s an excerpt from the January 2014 blog post:

      “Mayor Anna Peterson and City Manager Linda Norris started off by choosing a site for a new police facility — the Civic Center. This was their Step One, which in the schema summarized above is Step Three of the approach recommended by experts in this area.

      It is poor planning to consider alternative facility options (renovation of existing building, remodeling of another building, new construction) only after project consultants and a planning team have spend more than than a year focused on building a new police facility at the Civic Center.

      And then, to have the project consultants and planning team be the ones who decide whether there are viable alternatives to the police facility plan that they had spent so much time, money, and effort developing.

      Again, with basically zero community input, another backwards approach by the City of Salem.”

      It’s disturbing that, as Mayor-elect, you are promulgating false information about the police facility planning process. Hopefully this isn’t a preview of how you will conduct yourself during the Bennett Administration.

      Facts matter. Voters need to have accurate information on the police facility before they vote on the $82 million police facility bond in November. I’ve laid out the top-down nature of the planning process in the two blog posts linked to above. If you dispute any of the facts in those posts, please let me know what your disagreement(s) are.

      Until you can demonstrate that the facts I’ve laid out are wrong, citizens need to know that what this editorial says is correct: “The $82 million full meal deal has had almost no public engagement. It comes from the top down.”

      After 2014, the same top-down process was followed by a City of Salem task force on the police facility and a City Council subcommittee. Citizens had to sit and watch, with very little opportunity to weigh in on what was being discussed.

      I know. I was there. Sitting and watching. If you believe that being able to give three minutes of testimony at a public hearing after decisions already have been made by City officials is great “citizen involvement,” this doesn’t bode well for your term as Mayor.