Salem Weekly contributor investigates controversial city action

Salem’s Brian Hines, who has written the Strange Up Salem column for Salem Weekly since last May, has recently completed research into the controversial April 2013 removal by the City of Salem of five mature Japanese Zelkova trees that grew outside a bank in downtown Salem.

The 18-page online document, “Outrage: Salem’s U.S. Bank tree killings,” tells the account, Hines says, “of how City officials and the bank president cut down five large, healthy, beautiful downtown trees for no good reason, and misled citizens about why they did it.”

It is available by going to www.usbankkillstrees.com, which leads to a post on the HinesSight blog.

Hines says the “highly readable” report is based “on new information I got about this debacle after forking out $726.61 for public record requests” for meeting notes, emails and memos from the City of Salem.  He says the evidence reveals “for the first time, how truly outrageous” the tree removals were.

Hines believes the incident was not simply a bureaucratic error or an unfortunate decision required by law.  He says, instead, that it serves as an example of how Salem city government curried favor with special interests over the will of the people, the advice of experts and city code itself.

Saying that it is satisfying to have completed publication of the report, Hines adds, “Some people have asked me why I bothered writing the report, since it is so tough to change things at City Hall.  Well, by nature I’m optimistic. Plus, the truth has a strange (or not so strange) power. It may take a while for the truth to have an effect, but eventually it wins out.”

“Outrage” says that a “back room” verbal promise between an influential citizen and a city official carried more weight than even city law.

The City’s position on the matter was documented in a 6-page decision order prepared at the time by Peter Fernandez, Public Works Director for the City of Salem.  Fernandez stated the city was obliged by law to have the trees removed.