Salem City – and Salem City Council – should be more accessible


As someone who follows Salem’s city government, I’m exasperated by how difficult it is to find out what the city is working on, how and when decisions are made, who participates, and what goes into that process.
Now, the city is about to unveil a “secret” plan redoing city hall and the police department.  It could be expensive and it is time for Salem’ s voters to pay closer attention.

But… how easy is that to do?

I go to council meetings because of rumors and hints of things the city might do because of “budget problems” and I am concerned because council’s priorities seem askew.  The City appears to have plenty of taxpayer money for big developer projects, but meanwhile it struggles to limit local worker pay and taxpayer services.  And some of the money spent on development would otherwise go to schools.

Another problem – the city council agenda is only available a few days before the next meeting.  And it’s hard to follow… without clear explanation of the issues listed.  On top of that, changes are added at the beginning of meetings . . .often without copies for the audience.  This process is very different from other cities which have clear agendas available longer.

I want Salem to move to more access, more clarity and more participation.

It bothers me that council meetings often have little or no discussion of issues.   Frequently, just a motion for staff recommendations and a (usually) unanimous vote. There is even a “consent calendar” . . .not explained, but passed all together without comment.

For example, the city increased the minimum “parking tax” on downtown business by more than two times from the “consent” calendar.   It went by so fast one councilor even had to be told they just passed it.  Affected businesses appeared to not be notified or given a chance to speak.   A new proposed fee on city utility bills for street repair and street lamps appeared on its way to passage when a former congressman explained they couldn’t pass a tax off as a fee. Council voted in a 10 year tax shift from a developer’s project to city taxpayers.  At the same meeting, a small business person asked the council to help address an “awning” problem and cost caused by a city mistake, and was met with silence.

If not discussing and exploring the issues at council meetings, where the public can watch,  when and where does council do its business?  The public has a right to see those discussions to be more informed when making decisions about councilors!

I’m asking for changes to the way Salem conducts its business.

Bradd Swank is retired and has lived within a mile of the Gold Pioneer on the State Capitol since 1973.  He worked for private  law firms, was a deputy legislative counsel,  Senior Counsel for the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, and Special Counsel for Government Relations for the Oregon State Court System, including acting as a primary contact for public records and public meetings issues for the  state courts.   He’s at

7 thoughts on “Salem City – and Salem City Council – should be more accessible”

  1. I hope that you and other Salem Weekly readers will attend the Salem Community Vision meeting this Friday, Oct 18, at The Grand Theater beginning at 6:30 p.m. The purpose of the meeting is to inform our fellow neighbors about what we have learned about future plans for the Civic Center and the Park. The lack of citizen involvement in these issues has been very limited. I have been following city issues for over two decades and still this kind of thing is hard to track. Citizens can make a difference if they work together to find out what is happen, take some time to not just participate in after-the-fact city presentations, but do their own thinking. After all that is how we got the beautiful Riverfront Park and not a conference center/hotel as originally proposed by a developer. And how we got the Carousel, the gazebo and the splash pond. Salem citizens are full a great ideas and great potential. This is OUR CITY. We can make a difference too!

    1. Susan, I think if someone could write a brief history of the fight/process by citizens to prevent the conference center development, it would be very enlightening and helpful — perhaps as a guide to how Salem citizens can take action today on current issues….

  2. These Tea-Bircher conspiracies have to stop. Salem city council and staff are completely accessible. Salem citizens exclude themselves when they don’t participate in the process, leaving them ignorant. Their ignorance is then easily exploited by people like the parking lobby in their fight preserve the status quo.

  3. Curt,
    Salem City council is incredibly non-transparent. That plus the awful location that is not convenient or welcoming. City Hall is right out of Soviet era Russia.
    By the way, you call people ignorant but you never seen to have any educated or experience based input. What is your resume? What have you accomplished? You seem to have a lot of opinions – and your method of expressing them sure doesn’t come off in a manner that is helpful.

  4. Paul,

    Who put you in charge of vetting Salem Weekly commenters? I have been to Council many times on many issues and they have always been responsive. I have regular contact with my councilor and staff. Supporting materials are always available on the city website. You don’t need any special education to understand the data behind the decision making either. They don’t do everything I want but I’m not naive enough to expect that they would. Maybe if more people cared enough to get the facts and engage in informed dialogue with council and staff Salem would be a better place than it is today. Opinions like this show that people in this city put more time and effort into cooking up conspiracies than dealing with the real problems this city is facing.

    And I agree with you about the location of City Hall. But it fits with Salem–dirty, ugly, depressing. Thats what happens when you do things cheap. I don’t understand why Salem Community Vision wants to preserve it like it is. Seems like whenever the dust settles from any of these issues the answer is always NO!… Don’t change anything. Which is a strange angle for an alternative weekly.

    1. Good grief Curt F. What’s with the sour attitude? Even when you have a good point, you dress it in put downs and nasty comments.

      There are no people involved in any of these processes that have any solid experience doing positive projects in the past. If we are going to invest large sums of money, it should be done wisely, not building fancy admin offices.

      Now if those fancy admin offices were near a center of commerce, where the investment would yield community enhancement, that would be different story. Building a big facility nearer to downtown that included fountains, community gathering areas, benches, community restrooms, drinking fountains…etc. That makes sense. The common good is served by creating something better that enhanced commerce (and increases tax revenues). There is a public good created. But the proposed location is not good and anything other than a basic admin facility is a complete waste.

      I have no intention of insulting you, but you are so transparent in your lack of experience, that it is hard to take any of your input seriously. Add to that the insults you package them with and that makes it even more difficult.

      You have some good ideas. Maybe consider putting them out there in a thoughtful and constructive way (hint: that means leaving the insults out). Maybe be willing to consider the input of others that have experience in developing vibrant city infrastructure. Just a suggestion. Being nice never hurts.

  5. The City of Salem essentially became a real estate company when our last real Mayor (Mike Swaim) left office. Mayor Taylor loves real estate and, since her election, the purpose of our local government has been growth and development. True government represents the interests of every citizen – the current government represents the interests of a small subset of citizens. I used to enjoy watching Mayor Swaim run a council meeting. He welcomed everyone’s involvement, even those who he disagreed with. He was respectful. Currently, almost nobody speaks out because they are treated like enemies if they disagree with the dominant position. This is bad government.

Comments are closed.