By Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston
|UDD Dir Kristin Retherford and Lt. Upkes 2/19/19|
That is the upshot of the otherwise unedifying work session
held on February 19, to go over the staff Implementation Plan Recommendations issued in January.
Councilors Ausec, Leung and Nanke were absent from the one-hour session, most of which was spent listening to Urban Development Department Director Kristin Retherford go through each item, one by one, not that she said anything that wasn't in the Implementation Plan Recommendations.
The acute need for "downtown homeless solutions" started in 2016, when various factors raised the pressure on the downtown homeless population and strained relationships with businesses and police. Mayor Bennett took office in January of 2017, amidst frequent complaints and demands from downtown businesses that City Hall "do something."
Salem's new mayor never wanted a task force. He wanted a housing program for the chronically homeless, a sobering center and a sit-lie ordinance. He nailed the first two, but he didn't get his ordinance. See "City Council Kills Sit-Lie After Public Hearing." Instead, he got a task force. Still, there was hope that the task force might resurrect something similar to a sit-lie ordinance. It was not meant to be. See "DHSTF Smothers Son of Sit-Lie."
The final DHSTF recommendations were issued August 1, 2018. The fact that the City took six months to develop a plan to implement a set of strategies that were touted as being "SMART" (i.e. ready to implement) says that either they weren't "SMART", or they weren't a priority, or both. That being the case, the prospects that the City will convene a Good Neighbor Partnership (GNP) do not look very good.
Bennett never liked the GNP idea, repeatedly referring to it as, "this kind of, 'can't we all get along' attitude of 'let’s have a good neighbor policy'.” See "Mayor Mulls Dtown Hless Recs." But, he did understand its intended purpose, at least initially, which was to have "people who know what they're doing in terms of working with the homeless" help downtown business owners learn "how to create a good neighbor policy with people, how to talk with people who are, look, you’re in front of my business, you’re making it impossible, or, you’re blocking the sidewalk, how can we talk this through? That kind of thing." Despite CANDO's advice that the Council "adopt and implement with all deliberate speed" the recommendation to create a GNP, Bennett just never seemed to see the value in it, because if he had, you'd better believe he'd have convened a GNP by now.
Another problem for the GNP is that staff made a complete hash of it in the Implementation Plan Recommendations, which means only those Council members who have followed the proceedings closely have any idea what the GNP is supposed to be.
|Draft "Behavior Expectation" Rec #1|
At the final meeting in August, staff asked the task force to discuss and vote on the recommendations, but not the "options."
|Draft "Behavior Expectation" Rec #2|
Staff then developed implementation plans for those same options, even though they were unrelated to the GNP and had to be tortured in an effort to make them fit. The result was a profound confusion of ideas.
Example: a card or flyer is not an appropriate strategy for implementing a Good Neighbor Partnership.
What staff should have done after the last meeting is develop new options to implement the new GNP recommendation. But, that is not the only flaw in the Implementation Plan Recommendations.
|Final Rec (combining draft Rec #1 and #2)|
The Implementation Plan Recommendations refer in various places to "an ongoing partnership and meeting structure", "an ongoing organizational structure", an "ongoing committee or other structure", an "ongoing meeting structure" and "ongoing committee, board, or commission [that] would require a City staffing commitment in terms of participation and convening, or a more significant commitment if the structure is to stand up a board or commission", adding that, "If the City stands up a board or commission, further staffing resources will be required to comply with public meeting and public records law."
Anyone can see where that language is likely to take a Councilor who's unfamiliar with the GNP concept. S/he's going to conclude that the City's being asked to "stand up" yet another formal board or commission. However, that is only how staff have interpreted the GNP recommendation. It's not what the task force had in mind. See "DHSTF Calls for Ongoing Conversation."
Nevertheless, that's exactly what happened during the work session: Council began thinking terms of a large, formal gathering. Mayor Bennett and Councilor Kaser in particular expressed interest in some sort of formal, advisory, sounding board type of group that that would meet quarterly for "ongoing dialogue." The only question was, who should convene such a group.
|Councilor Andersen 2/19/19|
Councilor Andersen, echoing the concerns expressed in the Implementation Plan Recommendations that the City would be "stepping further into the role of social service funder and provider" if it were to take on the role of convenor, called on staff to involve Marion County.
Councilor Kaser expressed similar concerns, as she has all along.
No one, except perhaps Retherford, seemed to appreciate that downtown Salem is Salem's business, not Marion County's. The same is true for The United Way of the Mid Willamette Valley, which serves all of Polk and Yamhill Counties, as well as Marion County.
The work session gave staff no clear direction, so what happens next will depend on staff initiative, and what makes it into the City Manager's proposed budget. Council probably will be asked whether it wants to create some sort of formal, advisory, sounding-board type of group that would meet quarterly for "ongoing dialogue", even though the task force did not recommend the creation of such a group, and even though it is too late, now, for an "ongoing dialogue" between members of a group that disbanded in August 2018.
Mayor Bennett wanted the task force to give him an "enforcement tool." Instead they gave him something that had much greater potential for positive change in the downtown -- i.e., a commitment by "people who know what they're doing in terms of working with the homeless" to help downtown business owners learn "how to create a good neighbor policy with people, how to talk with people who are, look, you’re in front of my business, you’re making it impossible, or, you’re blocking the sidewalk, how can we talk this through?" The cost of bringing together such a group could have been minimal. The Mayor's failure to act promptly on the GNP recommendation is a huge missed opportunity for the City, but especially for CANDO.
See "DHSTF Recs Update" for a brief on what's likely to happen with the remaining recommendations.