Who are the nine Salem residents who give their time to serve on Salem’s City Council? What would compel any person already consumed with the troubles and distractions the rest of us face, to volunteer to take on another job, with part-time hours and no pay?
In upcoming months, Salem Weekly will request interviews with each City Councilor to learn the answer. This is the first of our series.
“Serving on the City Council has been the best way I know of for me to help make our little corner of the world a great place to live, work and raise a family,” says Diana Dickey, Ward 5 councilor.
Like many others, Dickey says she came to public service because she cared about parks. “It’s surprising how many people do,” she says. “It doesn’t even matter what political party they are… parks are something we seem to all agree are important.”
In Dickey’s case, it was an abandoned tree farm near the Salem home she moved to more than four years ago. Dickey, a mother of two, saw a missed opportunity. “… it had space and, you know, tall trees. But it also had big ‘No Trespassing’ signs, and children need a place to play.” So she got involved in her neighborhood association to make the area into a new park, and subsequently moved on to City Council.
“Parks are still my big thing,” she says.
Her dream as a child was to become a teacher. It’s what she became, too; a teacher and a substitute teacher. She’s “still teaching to some degree,” still making that kind of difference, in her current position in health education for Marion County Health Department.
One of her duties involves The Oregon Tobacco Quit Line, a resource for smokers who are thinking about quitting or who need support quitting. “It’s totally free to the public!” she says with pride.
Last month, Dickey worked with Deputy City Manager Kacey Duncan to draft a letter about coal trains in Oregon.
“This is a new kind of export for our area and many questions have been raised about the potential impacts to Salem. Because this is not the kind of export we have had here, I think that it is reasonable to request an EIS. I also believe it lets Salem residents know formally that we are aware of and monitoring the issue.”
She was surprised the letter was not endorsed. (see Recent Action sidebar) Dickey says she always thought that she might run for office. She went to Oregon Girl’s State when she was in high school, a “mock legislatrion” program for youth. She was also involved in student government.
“Councilors often follow their interests,” she told Salem Weekly, “and serve on committees in areas of their expertise.” Because of this, Dickey served as co-chair of the City’s Task Force that worked several years to create a new Park System Masterplan – the new draft was released in January.
“It’s been a lot of work, and it’s taken several years, but it’s been very interesting,” Dickey says. She’s enthusiastic about what her team achieved.
People may think parks are an indulgence, but Dickey believes that, because they encourage local residency, they contribute to an area’s “bottom line,” as well as a richer, stronger community.
“Sometimes we’ll see businesses locate here, but their management will live in Wilsonville, Lake Oswego or Portland, or something [because of the amenities in those areas]. “Sure, the business is contributing to the economics of our community, but the people that work there are not invested in the same way.”
Other than parks, Dickey says she is most interested in Salem’s downtown.
“Downtown is the neighborhood, really, that we all share. When we talk about bridges, even, footbridges or a possible bridge across the river, we are always talking about downtown. Too many buildings here are not occupied or are underused. These are issues the city has worked on for many years, and needs to continue to focus on.”
She feels the city has “a jewel” in Riverfront Park, and in the children’s museum there, “and all that will be expanded by the Minto footbridge. We also have a jewel in our State Capital. It’s just beautiful. We need to build on these things, that make Salem unique.”
Dickey’s not just about making the community better. Her “guilty tv show” is What Not to Wear, and she’s a voracious reader. “While Council keeps me busy, I also love to de-stress by lifting weights–the heavier, the better. Not sure that I could win a bar brawl, but I can hold my own in a bench press competition! Her favorite local band is The Ty Curtis Band, her favorite beer (“at the moment!”) is Maui Brewing Mana Wheat Pineapple Ale, and she loves word games, especially Boggle.
It may not be easy to serve as City Councilor when you work another job, have a husband and two children “though they’re growing up; one’s in college and another’s a Junior in High School.” But Dickey loves it.
“I get satisfaction in being able to speak for those who need a voice or an advocate. Even in those situations where maybe the vote doesn’t go the way I had hoped, I can stand strong knowing I have done the right thing.”
Dickey enjoys contact with constituents. “I personally like it when people reach out to me.” She says. “I’m interested in what people think. I encourage the public to call or email with their concerns.”
Deputy city manager, Kacey Duncan and Salem city councilor, Diana Dickey presented a letter to city council on January 14. They did not ask the Council to weigh in personally on coal but, in the city’s words, “to affirm the Council’s support of the Governor’s call for federal agencies to examine the impacts of coal exports to Asia.” (The letter referred to Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s request that an environmental statement (EIS) be done before wide-ranging decisions were made).
It turned out to be far more controversial than she expected. Councilors Clausen and Bednarz found the letter slanted, and the Mayor requested a more neutral document. (Dickey, along with Councilors Bennett, Tesler and Thomas supported the letter as-is). The letter is going back to city staff for a re-write.
Dickey thought her document was fair and was suprised the letter was not endorsed.
“I clearly stated that I was not asking the Council to take a position on the issue, just to support asking for more information via supporting the Governor’s EIS request. I think we have a right to know what potential impacts, positive or negative, if any, could come from coal exports. If an EIS shows none, then that would be good to know as well.”