Saturday, February 11, 2017

Should Salem Spend $40K to Implement TF Plan?

On Monday, the City Council will receive a presentation on the MWHITF's strategic plan.  As they do so, they might want to consider a few things.

First, it begins with a lie.  Polk County did not help create the plan, having dropped out in October, and their only recommendations (from the Veterans Committee) having been ignored, out of spite, and replaced by the recommendations of a group of students from Willamette University.

Second, Councilors should keep in mind that, at some point, they will be asked to approve $40,000 to "jumpstart" the hiring of a project manager to implement the plan they are hearing about.  They should ask themselves whether the plan they're hearing about is worth $40,000 to implement, and also, whether that $40,000 would not be better spent on housing and services for the homeless.

Councilors should ask themselves whether the Task Force members who voted for the plan did so because they believed in it.  If they are so inclined, they should watch the last hour of the last meeting, and consider whether a majority even had time to read the plan.          

Councilors should also ask themselves whether they believe that providers in the area support and will collaborate on implementing the plan, because, if they don't or won't, there's no point in hiring someone to oversee implementation.

If any Councilor does believe there's widespread support for the plan, then they should probably talk to a few people.  Not publicly, because no provider will say what they truly think in public -- or amongst each other.  Providers won't talk unless they feel like it's safe to be honest, because they're afraid of offending the City and others on whom they may depend for funding, and they're afraid of backbiting.  If they feel safe enough to say it, providers will say they didn't participate in making the plan, weren't consulted about it, and don't believe the plan is worth $40K to implement. Unsurprisingly, they will likely also say, if asked, that they're not inclined to devote any of their own time or resources toward implementation.

Councilors may hear it said that the plan puts "meat on the bones" of Marion & Polk Counties' 10-Year Plan, but that's not true.  In reality, the two plans have nothing to do with each other.  Moreover, unlike the Task Force's plan, HUD approved the 10-Year Plan, as did all participating jurisdictions, and it provides access to financial resources.  The Task Force plan, on the other hand, is a disorganized mishmash that's unconnected to anything.

So now let's talk about the "implementation structure."  This is what Commissioner Carlson and Mayor Clark are asking Salem to give them $40,000 for.

The slide below refers to a "commission" -- that's because, up until a couple of weeks ago, the co-chairs were talking about Salem creating a housing commission.  Then, they figured out they already had housing commissions.      

So, as Mayor Clark happened to be on the board of directors of the MWV Council of Governments, they devised a plan with COG whereby COG would hire and supervise a FTE in COG, initially paid for by Salem ($40K), Marion County ($40K), and Keizer ($TBA), and that FTE would "make sure the plan happens."  None of the details have been worked out, but here's what the Task Force was told at about 5:30 last Tuesday, half an hour before the end of their very last meeting:  Someone, probably Commissioner Carlson and Mayor Clark, will select an advisory committee.  That committee will work with COG to hire a project manager who, under the direction and control of the COG board of directors, as advised by the committee, will convene a 3-layer implementation team of area providers, yet to be recruited, that will "make the strategic plan happen."  If everything works out, Willamette University students will provide priorities and performance measures in May, plan implementation will commence in June, and the COG will adjust dues payments to pick up the cost of the staff person going forward.  Note: the slide doesn't reflect much of this plan, probably because it's too new.

If that were a small-business plan, would the City give it a micro-loan?  No, it wouldn't.  So why would anyone even think of supporting it with a grant of $40,000?  Politics. Pure Politics.   
The Mayor inherited this project in December, and, as a co-chair, is under tremendous political pressure to support it.  It is, therefore, vitally important for each member of the Council not simply to "go along to get along" with the Mayor, but rather to exercise his or her own, independent, judgment.  If, however, a councilor should lack the time to read and evaluate the plan on his or her own, then take it from those of us who went to every meeting, reviewed the audio of, or attended, every committee meeting, read every document, and had hundreds of conversations about the process over the course of the last year:  let this one go.  It is not worth pursuing.   

The Case in Brief
  1. The unexamined premise of the project-manager-in-COG proposal is that there is a "project" that requires a "manager." 
  2. The strategic plan is not so much a "project" as it is a list of project ideas, of varied complexity, most of them unrelated.  
  3. The plan identifies no priorities or performance measures, and the Council should not rely on students, no matter how well-intended, to provide them.
  4. The plan's objectives and tasks are vague, disorganized and subject to multiple interpretations.
  5. Many objectives are self-executing, or already resolved in some way, and the rest require the approval of Salem, Keizer, Marion and Polk Counties, and the boards of social service agencies, many of which did not participate in the planning process. 
  6. All plan deficiencies are exacerbated by the fact that Commissioner Carlson and Mayor Clark are likely to be the ones determining what the manager will do with thell plan. 
  7. The plan does not have the support of the provider community or Polk County. 
  8. Implementation would likely be a serious distraction and make more difficult the ongoing efforts to bring housing and homeless service providers together into some form of collaboration.
  9. Forty-thousand dollars would pay the first and last month's rent and security deposit for 12 families. 


  1. Salem should look at the Seattle homeless project,:

  2. A recent drive and 3 day stay in Seattle makes me think it's not working very well.