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 email@example.com.