Saturday, June 24, 2017

News from the Continuum

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston


There's apparently been a recent uptick in the number of livability complaints from downtown businesses, in response to which, the City is planning to remove "a couple" of benches from outside Liberty Plaza and looking at a rewrite of its "sit-lie" ordinance.  See here.

We can't quite figure out which part of the Salem Revised Code constitutes the "sit-lie" ordinance, but we're surmising it's somewhere in Chapter 95 (Miscellaneous) -- possibly SRC 95.700 (Pedestrian Interference).

As Councilor Kaser explained it, one may stand, sit or lie on a sidewalk, as long as one is not impeding pedestrians.  One may also lean on or back up against a building, if one is handy, as long as the building isn't posted with "No Trespassing" signage, or the signage fails to include the correct code reference.  So, you'd think it'd be okay to sleep on a bench, as they're out of the way of pedestrians.  Presumably, that's why they're being removed from around Liberty Plaza, and, as we reported last week, from outside the Center Point office building on Cottage Street, not so much to prevent people from sleeping on them, perhaps, as to prevent them answering the call of nature on nearby properties.

Bench ruins outside Center Point office building
The situation's apparently got some people really very upset and angry.  Like tenants of the property owners who came to CANDO last week, wanting the City to do something about the same sort of problem over on Church Street.  Only in that case, the owners don't want benches removed, they want HOAP removed.  The thinking is, one may suppose, that if whatever gives comfort is taken away, "they" will leave.  Where they go doesn't matter.  In the immigration context, it's called removing "the pull factor."

The U. S. District Court ruled Portland's "sit-lie" ordinance   unconstitutional, back in 2009, and the city's not tried to fix it, for reasons one may imagine.  Does Salem's decision to consider a rewrite of its ordinance signal a shift away from its oft-stated view that "we're not going to arrest our way out of this"?  Seems kinda like it, but we'll wait and see what Chief Moore has to say.  In related news, it seems that the Urban Development Department is reporting that City funds will be used to return two “Arta Potties”, removed last fall from their locations behind the Bishop Building and on Front Street, back to downtown, though it's not known when.  Seems like adding toilets makes more sense than removing benches, but there is the ongoing cost to consider. 

Word has gone out to the provider community that Union Gospel Mission  director, Bruce Bailey, has resigned.  Bruce came to Salem and UGM in May of 2015 from Illinois and the Salvation Army to reinvigorate the capital campaign to build a new men's shelter on the property currently occupied by the UGM store and admin offices.  He replaced Mike Rideout, who  resigned in late 2014.  Among the challenges he faced were serving on the MWHI Task Force and the decimation of his overflow capacity by the fire marshal during one of the coldest winters ever.  We found Bruce to be thoughtful, direct and very hospitable (UGM hosts the Emergency Housing Network's monthly meetings that includes lunch).  Another recent shift that feels like a loss is Salem Health's decision to terminate the original joint management agreement that formed OHSU Partners and also joined Salem Health's and OHSU's financial "bottom line."  According to information given Salem Health's Community Sounding Board, "the structure was both innovative and complex and simply wasn't working in the way it was originally intended." 

Friday, June 23, 2017

6/20/17 Minutes

Residents: Deb Comini, Santiago Sorocco, Brian Hart 
Organizations: Simon Sandusky and Jeanine Knight, Union Gospel Mission; Jim O’Keefe, Oregon Center for Clinical Investigations, Carol Hendrix and Marty Vomund, Church Street Associates
City and County Representatives: Councilor Kaser; Julie Tichbourne, Engineering Program Mgr, Public Works Department  
Guests: none 

The regular meeting was called to order at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, at the First Christian Church at 685 Marion Street NE, Salem.  The Chair and Secretary-Treasurer were present.

The minutes of the May meeting were approved by unanimous consent.

Councilor Kaser reported that the City is reworking its “sit-lie” ordinance in response to complaints from downtown businesses, and will be removing “a couple” of benches from the sidewalk around Liberty Plaza, 285 Liberty Street (southwest corner of Chemeketa and Liberty). The Urban Development Department has reported that City funds will be used to return two “arta potties”, removed last fall from their locations behind the Bishop Building and on Front Street, back to downtown.  It’s not known when, exactly, that will happen.  Following a dozen or so meetings with various focus groups, the City has initiated a project to develop a downtown streetscape design plan by issuing a request for proposal which will close July 14, 2017.  There will be an opportunity for public input in the fall.  It’s expected that the Salem Main Street Association will integrate the design plan with its revitalization strategies.  Beginning June 22, artist Damien Gilley will begin work on the “Mirror Maze” mural on the short, rounded wall in the alley between Commercial and Liberty Streets NE. The 560 square foot mural will be unveiled on July 5, 2017 as part of the First Wednesday event. Artist Blaine Fontana will begin his “Waldo Stewards” mural on the Chemeketa Parkade’s east stairwell on July 10. This 1,819 square foot mural will wrap the parkade stairwell and will be finished the week of July 24.  The City is working with the federal authorities to remove the concrete slab from the Commercial Street underpass and create a walkway on the north side of Pringle Creek
The board heard a presentation by Julie Titchbourne on the new signal construction at Union and Commercial Streets NE, which is expected to start July 1, 2017, and be completed in November (the poles are, however, on backorder). The construction includes water quality basins, ADA pedestrian barricades, and bulb outs on the eastern corners of the intersection, which will take a couple of parking spaces, a concern of residents at 601 Commercial Street.

In public comments, Brian Hart invited the board to enjoy music at 28 venues as part of Make Music Day, from 9am to 10pm, on June 21.  The board then heard from Carol Hendrix and Marty Vomund, who have owned 701 and 745 Church Street since about 1994.  Mr. Vomund also owns 575 D Street.  They re-raised the livability issues expressed by Ms. Hendrix in emails to Councilor Kaser and CANDO’s chair, discussed here, which they blamed on the Homeless Outreach Advocacy Project (HOAP), which since 1995 has provided services to the homeless at 703 Church Street NE.  Ms. Hendrix said she had been in communication with Northwest Human Services, which operates HOAP, and had had a good response.  Jeanine Knight and Simon Sandusky offered responsive comments on behalf of the Union Gospel Mission.  Asked what action they were asking the board to take, Ms. Hendrix indicated she wanted the City to improve the situation, and Mr. Vomund indicated he wanted CANDO to advocate to have HOAP provide its services somewhere else, perhaps in a light industrial district, and also to have the City provide a place for people to store their belongings.  They said they’d been collecting signatures from Church Street neighbors, and, on Councilor Kaser’s advice, were composing a letter to the City Council.  The board also heard comments from Jim O’Keefe, who alleged, among other things, that HOAP clients were selling their medications right outside HOAP’s entrance, and that the area around HOAP was a “major drug hub.”  He asserted he had made countless reports to the police and shared video footage of the “med-money exchanges”, but had not received a satisfactory response.  He said he had “given up on the drug issue.”  He also said that there had recently been a “huge fire” behind HOAP, and three buildings had been “hit” with graffiti.  Vice-Chair Michael Livingston suggested that Ms. Hendrix and Mr. Vomund contact SPD’s crime prevention unit to inspect the property and offer advice on how to discourage people from using it as a place to sleep, etc.  At seven o’clock, the chair closed the comment period and suggested the board, after reflection, would consider at its next meeting, July 18, whether and what action might be taken.

The meeting adjourned at 7:02 p.m.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cottage Street Benches Removed

Revised: January 2019

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

No More Benches
The benches in front of the office building on Cottage Street, across from the First Congregational Church, have been removed.

Want to guess why?  It wasn't so they could be painted.

No, these were very substantial benches, that had to be, like, amputated from their concrete pads with a saw.

Someone really didn't like those benches being there any longer.

The big bushes were also removed.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

re 700 block Church Street

CANDO has received a complaint from a property owner about long-standing conditions on Church Street, between Union Street and Mill Creek, that the owner believes are caused or exacerbated by the presence of the Homeless Outreach Advocacy Program (H.O.A.P.), run by Northwest Human Services (NWHS).  The complaint is as follows.

I met with Cara Kaser recently regarding the increasing problems in our neighborhood that are hurting businesses and landlords in the vicinity of the HOAP program. Cara shared with you a few of the problems we have had since the HOAP program entered what was once a pristine and desirable neighborhood. Problems have worsened this year beginning when the Union Gospel Mission reduced services due to fire code violation.  As a landlord, we have lost renters and prospective renters due to the visible nuisance centered around the HOAP building.  Other businesses have left.  During the past month our renter has twice called due to intoxicated men sleeping in our backyard and we have paid our handiman to rouse them and dispose of empty bottles, blankets, trash.  Attorney and psychologist offices and the sleep center all report problems. 

701 Church Street

Would it be possible for myself and Marty Vomund, the other owner of our apartments at 701 Church Street NE, to be on the agenda for your June 20 meeting?  While we appreciate that the HOAP program is working to reduce loitering and sleeping and storage of household goods/shopping carts along the front of the building, this effort is often accompanied by loud yelling and swearing and confrontations.  And there is no monitoring on weekends so the shopping carts and trash and sleeping homeless citizens return.  Our renters have expressed anxiety and been harrassed by these people.  The parking area behind the empty building next to HOAP is consistently used as a bathroom by HOAP homeless clients.  While we support the mission of services to homeless, the program is impacting every business on the street and our property values.  We believe it is inappropriate for this service - which now offers showers, meals and laundry services, coffee and socializing to anyone who shows up as well as medication to the mentally ill  - to be located in a mixed business/professional/residential neighborhood. The Salem Compliance Department has stated that they no longer work with homeless because they consider it dangerous work given they are unarmed.  This is what our unarmed renters, including single women who are regularly harassed and families with children, are dealing with. 

694 Church Street

We'd appreciate any help we can get from CANDO and the City of Salem regarding possible solutions to this increasing problem.  In talking with Cara I learned that the Union Gospel Mission has plans to break ground with an expansion of services.  In the meantime we are wondering what the city is willing to do.  There are vacant buildings in the downtown area that could possibly be staffed by Union Gospel staff and volunteers if the city is willing to rent such space. There is a need for weekend patrols to ensure safety of residents in this area and to break up loitering and camping that occurs.  Some businesses are incuring this expense for additional patrols on their own which we suggest should be the job of the city or the HOAP program.  HOAP is already doing what they can to minimize loitering, however it appears to be an uphill climb given the extensive services available to all comers. 
West Side Morgan Building on Church Street
When this issue first arose, the pastor of the Salem First Christian Church, where CANDO holds its regular monthly meetings, and who sits on the CANDO board, advised the board that the sidewalk on the west side of the Morgan Building, which the Church owns, has sometimes been blocked with shopping carts and other personal belongings.

Councilor Kaser has advised the board that she believes "The current situation at HOAP is creating a livability issue for the adjacent neighbors and businesses."  She reports that she's "talked with Brady Rogers with the City's Compliance Services about the issue, and Brady suggested that CANDO get involved and begin a conversation with HOAP and NWHS about how to improve the situation.  Brady suggested that perhaps HOAP could create a space behind HOAP for people to wait, rather than congregating outside and on the sidewalk, and perhaps create an outside space for people to temporar[il]y leave their belongings."

694 Church Street from alley
The board first heard about this situation on June 6, in an email from Councilor Kaser.  We immediately contacted Stephen Goins, HOAP Director and made several visits to this part of the neighborhood.  We communicated our preliminary findings to the board by email.  On Sunday evening, June 11, the board received the owner's complaint and request for time on the agenda of the June meeting.  The owner has been invited to use the public comment period to share her concerns and answer questions.  Sgt. Kevin Hill, who heads the Downtown Enforcement Team, Jeanine Knight, of UGM, Jimmy Jones, of The ARCHES Project (which might or might not be moving to 615 Commercial Street NE), and Stephen Goins of NWHS/HOAP have all be apprised of the situation.

Here is what we know about the situation.  HOAP has been in existence since 1986, and has been located in the building at 694 Church Street since 1995.  NWHS owns the building.

The Union Gospel Mission this past winter summer did close its day room and shut down its locker program, forcing many to carry their belongings with them wherever they go.

CANDO has not received complaints about HOAP, or from the businesses in the neighborhood around HOAP, nor has the Downtown Enforcement Team advised CANDO of complaints or problems with HOAP or in the area around HOAP. [Correction: CANDO did receive one complaint in 2016, as noted in the minutes here.]

We are informed and believe that having HOAP consumers (using HOAP's terminology) wait behind the building would be both inhumane and impractical, as it would require reconfiguring the check-in area in the building's interior, which is needed to maintain safety, and encourage undesirable after-hours activity in the alleyway.  The back of HOAP is presently off-limits to HOAP consumers because of the presence of staff vehicles and consequent low visibility.

We know that HOAP does have a "Good Neighbor Policy."  The "no carts" rule was added in response to the complaint at issue.  The day after it was implemented, the number of visits to the day center was halved.  The director, Stephen Goins, says he does not expect the drop to last.  But he also told us,

for some it will deter them from coming to the program.  These folks want to stay by their belongings in order to protect them from theft.  The other issues w/leaving carts elsewhere is conflict with business owners [where the carts are left]...[I]f these carts are stolen or taken away, service providers (like HOAP) are taxed on resources to help replace items needed to safely sleep outdoors, replace ID and SS debit cards, food stamp cards, etc. 

Stephen does understand, however, that the number of carts and their contents are hard to control, can pose a safety risk, and tend to negatively affect perceptions of HOAP and its consumers.  We asked him to reconsider the "no cart" rule, but he has not responded to that request.

We asked Brady Rogers about the owner's assertion that "The Salem Compliance Department has stated that they no longer work with homeless because they consider it dangerous work given they are unarmed."  He told us,  

My Compliance staff no longer participates in clearing active transient camps with Salem Police, for a number of reasons.  Mostly because I want them doing higher priority work, but also I consider that police business.  They are better equipped for this work. We still deal with “homeless” people as necessary.  My staff carry pepper spray for defensive use, but are not otherwise armed.

Turning to the property at 701 Church Street.  Councilor Kaser reported that the owner "had homeless individuals sleeping intoxicated in her fenced backyard and under her bushes and porch.  There have also been issues with hypodermic needles left in her bushes."

We talked to a tenant of a building on the same side of the street (two doors south of 701).  He told us that, until recently, there had been issues with people sleeping in the thicket on the north side of the lot next door (left side of telephone pole in photo).  But after the owner followed SPD's advice and limbed up the tree trunks, no more problem.

701 Church St backyard on left

 701 Church Street is to the right of the photo.

The back yard fence (left side of sawed-off hedge in photo) is low and flimsy and easy to negotiate.  Access to the back yard from Church Street is easily had from the adjacent property to the south, and from parking lot at the rear of the property (photo shows alley on the adjacent property, looking east toward Church Street).  The south side of the property is sheltered from view by trees and thick foliage on the east and south sides, and the house on the north side.  (See photo below.)

The photo below reveals bushes around the porch offering cover from view from the house and street (at night, light from above would cast a shadow over anything under the bushes). 

701 Church Street, alley on south side

Regarding possible solutions, the owner suggests the City might operate a shelter/day center space downtown or provide weekend patrols of the area.  However, the more immediate solution would appear to be for the owners of 701 Church Street to install a new back yard fence and trim the foliage on the front and south side of the property, and take any other environmental measures that might be recommended by the Salem Police Department.

For 22 years, HOAP has been a considerate neighbor, providing valuable services to CANDO residents, from its location on Church Street.  During that time, the number of Salem residents living in the streets has steadily grown, and area services, never adequate to meet the need, have not kept pace.  HOAP did not cause the problem in CANDO, and the problem is not unique to CANDO.

CANDO has as one of its three annual goals to "Support initiatives offering practical solutions for neighbors living in the streets", and is very encouraged by the City's planned Homeless Rental Assistance Program, which has the goal of housing, over the next year, 100 of the City's hardest-to-house chronically homeless residents.  As is apparent from this CANDO Archive that we are actively educating ourselves about, and following the development of, best practices in the delivery of homeless housing and services, with a focus on Salem and Marion and Polk County.  We think that is where the long-term solutions are, and we hope all CANDO residents will join us in this work.

[6/24/17 Update:  see Minutes of CANDO's June 20 Meeting.  7/12/17 Update: we met with Sgt. Kevin Hill, who heads the Downtown Enforcement Team.  He reported that he'd "pulled a scan" and nothing's been reported to the police.  He said they were in the 700 block occasionally for trespass-type issues, and that he has "graveyard going down there all the time" on patrol.  He said there was the occasional arrest for trespass, after numerous warnings.  In answer to our question, he said things were not worse on Church Street than elsewhere in the City.  7/23/17 Update:  see CANDO's recommendation to the City Council to implement a locker program.]     

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Transition to MWVCOG

Revised: December 2018

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

[Material originally posted under, "MWHI Transition Team Mulls Next Steps", and "News from the Continuum" (28 April 2017) and (24 June 2017)]
At the Task Force's last and final meeting in February, co-chairs Cathy Clark and Janet Carlson, having tried unsuccessfully to persuade anyone in the non-profit community to take on the role of a "backbone" organization for purposes of implementing the Task Force's strategic plan, proposed "housing" a strategic plan "project manager" in the MWVCOG or "COG", details to be worked out later by a transition team.

On April 20, the "Transition Team" met for the first time in an unannounced meeting at the Mid Willamette Council of Governments (COG)'s High Street offices.  Attendees included Marion County staffer Hitesh Parekh, Mayor Cathy Clark, Marion County Commissioner Janet Carlson (on the phone), Karen Ray (on the phone), John Reeves, Shaney Starr, COG executive director Nancy Boyer and Salem City Manager Steve Powers.  They discussed mainly costs and potential funding sources.  The upshot of the meeting was that COG wants a formal proposal, with a commitment of around $120K for salary/benefits (FTE), rent, incidental expenses and a telephone, less if the position is part time.

On May 30, the Transition Team held a public meeting at COG to go over the draft description of the Homeless Initiatives Coordinator position (see City of Salem staff report), and discuss next steps.

Marion County has "set aside" $45,000 for the position.  The Keizer and Salem budget advisory committees declined to recommend funding during their regular budget processes, with City of Salem staff opining that there should be "further organizational development before considering this expense", which they characterized as "ongoing."

However, Powers said during the May meeting that "Keizer is supporting the position" ($5,000), and he will be "going back to Council" to recommend that Salem also support the position ($65,000, up from the $40,000 mentioned at the February Task Force meeting).  The position is listed in Powers' budget as an "enhancement" and described as being "for a position focused on working the affordable housing initiatives and opportunities identified in the Mid-Willamette Homelessness Initiative." 

As for the "further organizational development" that City staff felt was needed, "We still have work to do for other jurisdictions who might be interested", said one participant at Tuesday's meeting, "we need a clear work plan for what the money will be buying", and "certainty from partners on their commitments."

The draft position description lists the following "distinguishing characteristics":

The position will be "responsible for the overall management of specialized efforts to develop a cohesive, collaborative and coordinated system of care that extends the reach of resources available to the homeless population.  Such efforts may include working closely with a network of local non-profit service providers, governmental agencies, and local businesses to provide case management, emergency housing, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and domestic violence interventions.  Efforts may also include system development, organizational evaluation and other projects to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the program.  The focus of this position is on initial program development and evaluation rather than ongoing managerial responsibility."

Powers told the group he expected that, when he returned to Council, he would be asked about other means and types of collaborations -- business, for example.  Would COG facilitate those collaborations, he wanted to know?  Or should the team consider, for example, United Way as a more suitable "home"?  (Several months previous, United Way of the Mid Willamette Valley had hired Ron Hays to replace outgoing Executive Director Randy Franke to deal with a sharp decline in revenues.  Hays reneged on Franke's FY 2017 grant agreements with local providers, citing budgetary concerns.)  Might the team want to talk to other potential partners, Powers wanted to know.   

"Phase One", Commissioner Carlson was quick to explain, "would be general agreement" between Salem, Keizer, Marion County and COG, with a "policy team giving guidance to the position."

The decision to house the position in COG had been made, Carlson seemed to be saying, because COG is "Switzerland", and anyway, she didn't trust United Way because it brings in so few funds ($2M) relative to Eugene's United Way ($6M), and it also allowed her Volunteer and Mentor Center to die.

Carlson continued for the next ten minutes, touching on a wide range of topics, including how a money map would show most homeless monies come from government, the conference call with HUD HQ about the ROCC, the problems with the Youth Homeless Demonstration Project planning grant application, and the possibility of adding a CoC administrator or HMIS lead to the project manager to be housed in COG.

When at last Carlson yielded the floor, Powers asked COG's new ED, Sean O'Day, for his thoughts on the "expanded vision" for COG.  (COG currently has no programs coordinating housing or homeless services.)  O'Day said he would of course have to take it to the board, "who have been waiting for it to gel."  He said the proposal was "in the budget", but they still needed an IGA between COG and "the jurisdictions" that was "discrete to the position."  As for other potential partners, he thought MWVCAA "might explore housing the position." 

MWVCAA Director Jon Reeves opined somnambulantly that the problem with housing the position in a non-profit was conflicting priorities, which he characterized as "community vs. program."  He said the United Way option might be more viable to him if it wasn't at the very beginning of a new administration (Hays's).  He said he "struggles with [the] COG [option] because of the governments involved and the potential for non-participation", likely a veiled reference to Polk County.

About the conference call with HUD HQ, Reeves said that, "when HUD said you can't do this [separate from ROCC], it won't work, it really made me want to do it."  It was, as usual, not clear if he was joking.

Powers, looking right at Commissioner Carlson, said there was no question about "the City's commitment to making this plan actionable", but would it be helpful, he wondered to the group, to have a discussion with the "policy team", and determine what the level of interest was among non-profits and other private companies in affordable housing and homelessness?  The response to his question, to the extent there was any, suggested the others either didn't understand what he was asking, or, more likely, wished to avoid the question. 

In summing up, Powers noted that there was general agreement on the minor changes needed to position description, but that they were still considering the pros and cons of the COG plan, and whether it "could expand outside government."  Someone asked about the next meeting, which had the unintended consequence of re-raising his question of whether or not they should meet with NGO  "policy team" members, and also who would be on the policy team.  Commissioner Carlson began talking about her suggestions (she was the only one to have turned in a list of names).  Reeves wondered if the Coordinated Entry Workgroup wasn't "a place to talk about this", and someone asked about including Yamhill County.  Powers finally let everyone off the hook and concluded there was "no need to have a meeting with sectors of the policy committee." 

Someone announced that the next meeting of the COG board of directors was June 20.  O'Day said he would have a "placeholder" for an information report on the proposal, and would be "gauging their interest" in it.  He said he would ask for authority to negotiate an IGA, because he didn't have "enough to draft one" at present.  Commissioner Carlson asked if this might be the last meeting of the transition team, then?  No, said O'Day, "if the board says okay [to his negotiating an IGA], then this group would iron out the details."  Powers suggested that "the three funders meet" by themselves for that purpose, which was agreed to.  No date was set.

On June 20, the COG board voted unanimously to authorize O'Day to negotiate an intergovernmental agreement between it and Salem, Keizer and Marion County, whereby the latter will pay for, and the former will "house a Program Manager who will oversee implementation of the Mid-Willamette Valley [sic] Homeless Initiative Strategic Plan."  The decision appeared to rest on O'Day's recommendation to proceed, and his assurance that COG would not be responsible for any of the costs.  COG budgeted $54,935.73 for the position, which is just a half FTE, perhaps because Salem has yet to approve the $65,000 it's expected to put up.

The City of Salem's Affordable Housing, Social Services and Homelessness Strategic Planning Work Group met several times over the summer.  The COG agreement/position was barely mentioned.

On October 17th, the COG board authorized O'Day to execute the IGA with Salem, Keizer, Monmouth, Independence and Marion County to establish a Homeless Program Coordinator position within COG. Salary and benefits to be paid by the cities and County.  Salem and Marion County to put up $45K each, with the remainder cities each putting up $5K.  Details here.

On October 23, the Salem City Council adopted strategic plan goals for affordable housing, homelessness and social service coordination, which didn't include the COG agreement/position.

On November 27, the Salem City Council authorized execution of the IGA, including allocating $45,000 toward a coordinator.  See here.  Although the staff report asserted that "The program will not duplicate or dilute existing advisory boards or initiatives the City has started -- such as the Homeless Rental Assistance Program" -- the position's "scope of work" is sufficiently broad that overlap and duplication would seem to be unavoidable.  We asked Mayor Bennett if the City's participation was the price that Marion County (i.e., Janet Carlson) required for its support of his sobering station.  His answer, "Pretty much."  Statesman Journal article here.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

MWHITF: Carlson Denies Wrongdoing

Revised: December 2018

By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

[Material originally posted under the titles, "Janet Carlson: Fact Check" (18 March 2017) and "Salem Weekly: Fact Check" (26 May 2017).]

For over a year, the Tuesday Willamette Wake Up team, then consisting of yours truly, Sara Cromwell and Sarah Rohrs, covered the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Initiative Task Force for KMUZ, 100.7 FM in Salem.  We also reported on the Task Force here in the CANDO Archive.   

However, it wasn't until January of 2017 that any of our reporting came to the attention of Marion County Commissioner Carlson, who took particular issue with the Willamette Wake Up report that aired January 17 (podcast here).  Melanie Zermer and Bill Smaldone (President of KMUZ's Board of Directors and member of the Salem Weekly Editorial Board) both reviewed the podcast, and concluded "the research was thorough and makes a compelling argument for public concern."  John Gear, legal counsel to the Board, also reviewed the podcast and approved the quality of the reporting as a "scoop."

About ten days after the report aired, the County asked KMUZ to "either remove the podcast from further distribution, or allow the county, and other task force conveners if they wish, the opportunity to respond in a follow up interview." 

KMUZ's President responded to the request saying that, of course, there would be an opportunity for a response.  Willamette Wake Up's Tuesday team arranged an interview date but had to cancel because of a power outage at the station.  The County did not follow through on the offer to reschedule.  The last communication from the County was a February 20 email saying they would "touch base with Michael next week", which they never did.        

On March 16, Salem Weekly ran a cover story about the January 17 Willamette Wake Up report.  The story said the County's PR person "looks forward for Commissioner Carlson and her having the opportunity to 'correct factually inaccurate information, and answer questions by the show hosts regarding the task force.'"  However, the County never attempted to reschedule an interview.     

The same day the Salem Weekly published its story, "Gator" Gaynor interviewed Commissioner Carlson on his show, Gator's Radio Experience, on KYKN, 1430 AM in Keizer.

The show has since been canceled, and the show's podcasts are no longer available.  However, three things about her interview are worth noting.

First, Carlson told "Gator" that she still wanted to do the interview with the Tuesday Willamette Wake Up team, she "just hasn't had the opportunity."  The show aired Tuesdays from 8 to 9, and the team was willing to schedule as far out as necessary to accommodate the Commissioner's schedule.  

The other two noteworthy bits were her comments about Polk County Commissioner Jennifer Wheeler's reasons for leaving the Task Force and her failure to respond directly to the report's very specific charges --  for example, the charge that she withheld Wheeler's October 18 memo from the Task Force and the public and that she was dishonest in telling the Task Force that Heidi Mackay and Sheriff Garton had not resigned.   

When asked during the interview, "from your mouth, what happened with Jennifer Wheeler?", Carlson responded:

Jennifer had some personal things going on in her life at that time, and she stepped away from the Task Force, uh, she, there was some confusion in how the letter was written, and so, when, when we got the letter, Anna, Cathy and myself, from Karen [sic], we needed to check in to find out whether it meant that Jennifer was stepping down, or whether Polk County was stepping away.  And that took us a little while to, uh, Anna talked to Mike Ainsworth, I talked to Craig Pope, uh, we also talked with our legal counsel, they had not rescinded their charter, so we thought it would be best to clarify at the next meeting, that while Jennifer had resigned, that Polk County was still at the table.  So it was the consensus of the co-chairs to come up with a statement, uh, to say that the four jurisdictions were still moving forward.  When I talked with Craig, they were really not interested in trying to, you know, the other two commissioners had a lot of commitments, didn't want to step in, and only three meetings left at that point, so, uh, that was where we went.  I sent you an email, I hope you got that, from Jennifer where, uh, she basically did not condone the, you know, kind of the blogs and the commentary that was going on about the Task Force and Polk County. 

After hearing the interview with "Gator", we asked Commissioner Wheeler whether she in fact "stepped away" from participating further on the Task Force because she "had some personal things going on in her life at that time."  This was her response, received March 23, 2017.

In closing the interview with "Gator", Carlson said,

The other point that we want to make is that in some of that innuendo or insinuations or speculations, there's a lot of discussion about transparency and whether we're being transparent or trying to mislead and all of that, you know everything was done appropriately under public meetings laws, you know, when a question came up, I contacted our county attorney, she sent me a statement, I sent that statement out, and I sent that statement to you [the interviewers], that, you know, what we were doing was within the bounds of the public meeting law.  I'm the one in Marion County that actually started the training in public meetings law.  It's a big deal to me, so it's interesting that somehow I'm getting tagged with the idea that I'm doing something inappropriate.   

On May 25, 2017, Salem Weekly ran yet another story about the January 17 Willamette Wake Up report.  In it, Carlson maintains that, contrary to the report, she was not a friend of Karen Ray, but a former colleague whose work she admired.  Carlson told Weekly she did her doctoral dissertation on one of Ray's books.  The report referred to Ray as "her friend, they had worked together in past years."

The Weekly incorrectly characterized the report as saying, "Ray's do work a qualified volunteer could have done was contrary to the directive to co-chairs that they limit themselves to administrative actions."  What the Willamette Wake Up report actually said was,

Carlson was unable to persuade Co-Chair Polk County Commissioner Jennifer Wheeler of the need to go out of state, or to pay $20,000 for services that Wheeler suspected very well were available in the community, and probably for free.

The County Counsel for Marion County, in responding to our request to attend and cover these co-chair meetings said they [the co-chairs] don't have any authority to make any substantive decisions, their authority is to schedule meetings...put items on the agenda, sort of ministerial, not to make any substantive decisions. 

Carlson admitted to the Weekly that Wheeler had left "over her unhappiness with the hiring of Ray, but Carlson adds that the departure was also due also to personal matters unrelated to the task force."  Wheeler has, as noted above, denied this.  

Carlson told the Weekly she rejected the report's suggestion that "she misled assembled task force members at the November 7, 2016 meeting...where she stated that several Polk County members 'just couldn’t be here.' It is not accurate, she maintains, to say that she made that statement 'knowing' that Polk County had actually departed."

Carlson's exact words to the Task Force at the November meeting were, "If I could clarify.  Jennifer resigned.  Steve Bobb sent in his resignation recently.  Heidi Mackay has not resigned.  Sheriff Garton has not resigned.  They just couldn't be here tonight."  The report did not allege Carlson's comments were made, "'knowing' that Polk County had actually departed", but that she made them after she had received and replied to, that very morning, an email from Heidi Mackay.  Mackay's email stated:

As already established by Commissioner Wheeler's letter dated October 18, 2016, Polk County is declining to participate in further meetings of the homeless task force.  Accordingly, as one of Polk County's appointed task force members, I also decline to participate in ongoing task force business. 

The Weekly stated that, "In fact, Carlson's documentation shows Polk County had not left the task force on November 7, and never did."  We haven't seen Carlson's "documentation", but the issue raised by the Willamette Wake Up Tuesday team was not whether Polk County "left" (i.e., whether its Task Force Charter remained intact), but why Carlson misrepresented the situation to the Task Force and the public.  The fact of Wheeler's memo is undisputed.  The fact that Carlson withheld it from the larger Task Force is undisputed.  The fact that Carlson received and replied to Heidi Mackay's email  prior to the meeting is undisputed. And, the fact that she told the Task Force that Jennifer Wheeler and Steve Bobb had resigned but Heidi Mackay and Sheriff Garton had "not resigned, "[t]hey just couldn't be here tonight," is undisputed

The Weekly had no basis for saying that, "The January 17 program...was part of an ongoing conflict between [the show's] co-host Michael Livingston and his wife, Sarah Owens, -- and the task force."  This is an ad hominem, circular argument that seeks to imply, but does not state, that the January report was somehow biased, and therefore lacking in credibility, because of critical CANDO Archive posts and emails linking to them that were sent to the Task Force once a week.  The claim of "ongoing conflict" was not raised in Carlson's interview with Gator Gaynor on KYKN in January, or anywhere else we know of, and it is not true.  Moreover, Carlson told her co-chairs in an email obtained through public records requests that "I don't read Sarah Owens' emails."