We applaud City Manager Steve Powers for initiating and funding a strategic planning process for the City of Salem. The council is now about half-way through the process that should be completed later this year.
It’s been sorely needed.
Our city council has been drifting for years with little direction. They have not taken the time to step back and chart a course for the future with measurable goals that represent the highest aspirations of our city.
Now that’s changing, and at a good time, with new city leadership and new city management.
That being said, the process thus far has had a few hiccups. There was the “stakeholder charrette” that became a vehicle for the mostly well-connected to try to exercise undo influence on the process. Luckily, enough ordinary citizens saw what was happening and pushed back to the extent that the results of the charrette have now been largely discarded, and the planning consultants do not plan to hold another one.
But another flaw in the process that has gone largely unnoticed is the “Vision” and “Mission” that the City Council developed in a work session on January 30th with no public comment or participation.
The city staff and city council are now using this Vision and Mission as if it has already been adopted, despite having had no public comment or approval in a regular council meeting. The City Manager used it in his official budget recommendation for 2017-18. This is wrong.
Some might argue that a Vision and Mission don’t really matter — that they are just window-dressing for the real substance of the strategic plan which are the measurable goals and action plan, but we disagree. The Vision and the Mission are the foundation of what comes next, and what they say matters. In that spirit we offer this critique in hopes that it will spur others to weigh in, and that the council will see fit to go back to the drawing board to get it right. Most importantly, the Vision and Mission need to be formally adopted in a public meeting with public comment and deliberation.
As for the Vision: Salem is as “safe” as it has been in decades if you consider our low, and falling, crime rate and the low incidence of fires and other emergencies. So why lead with “safe”? That only serves to justify the fact that nearly two out of every three general fund dollars goes to fund the police and fire departments, leaving our parks, libraries, social services and other city services woefully underfunded. To aspire to a “sustainable … environment” betrays either ignorance or denial about the impact of climate change. We are well past the point where sustaining the environment is an option. And what does it mean to have a city “that is open to all?” These days what springs to mind is refugees and the “sanctuary city” concept. Is that what it means? We doubt it. What does it mean?
As for the Mission: We think it goes without saying that city services need to be “fiscally sustainable.” Could it be otherwise? This doesn’t belong in a mission. And the use of the word ‘enrich’ is over the top. Is the mission of the city really to “enrich” its “present and future residents.” Really? Good luck with that. And how can you “enrich … the quality of the environment and neighborhoods?” That makes no sense. Ditto for “enrich … the vitality of our economy.” Your high school English teacher would have given this writing a ‘C.’ It reads like writing by committee. Always a bad idea.
Sorry, city councilors, but the Vision and Mission are a do-over.