Salem's new mayor moves quickly to aid business


The Oregonian

SALEM, OREGON -- Salem is open for business. The capital city's new mayor, Janet Taylor, is making that clear as she takes over from a slow-growth mayor who sent chills through the business community.

Some steps that Taylor, a business owner, has taken in just a few days in office aren't surprising: She and the council moved to repeal a new tax business owners thought was unfair, and she has promoted an effort to streamline the building permit and inspection process.

But another move, an offer to accept City Manager Bob DeLong's resignation (he hadn't offered it), caught even some supporters by surprise. DeLong was hired 11/2 years ago by the old council.

Although his job is administrative and not political, Taylor's fears that he wouldn't mesh with the new council may be one indicator of how deeply she feels about steering Salem in a new direction.

In recent years, City Hall politics have revolved largely around whether developers and business interests have too much sway. Mayoral and council candidates have been distinguished by whether they are the candidates backed by business. Or not.

Former Mayor Mike Swaim, an attorney who fended off business-supported candidates to serve as mayor, wasn't shy about describing the special interests that he believed had dominated City Hall for too long.

He argued during his campaigns for office that developers should shoulder a greater share of the costs of growth and helped see that they did, by greatly increasing systems development fees.

He supported a citizen initiative that made Salem the largest city in Oregon to require voter approval of annexations. The City Council under Swaim made it harder to cut trees for new development.

But many in the business community were shocked when Swaim protested logging in the city's watershed, led a protest of sweatshop conditions at a local Gap store and supported a worker boycott of a local mushroom plant. While some called Swaim Salem's social conscience and a populist activist, others viewed the moves as divisive -- and bad for business.

Taylor last spring whipped Swaim's preferred successor, a former weatherman, to become mayor with 63 percent of the vote. Swaim, in turn, lost a legislative race to a hardworking 25-year-old Republican named Billy Dalto, a former legislative aide for state Rep. Jackie Winters.

Now, observers believe that on economic issues, Taylor easily will command a majority vote on the nine-member council. Any number of revenues could change as Salem transitions from the slow-growth mantra of Swaim to the more jump-start-Salem philosophy of Taylor.

And the headlines over the DeLong matter, at least temporarily, are receding. Taylor said that she met with the city manager before she took office and told him that he didn't have the support of a majority of councilors and could resign if he wanted. He didn't.

Swaim called the attempt to remove DeLong "vicious," and former City Council President Bill Smaldone, who lost his re-election bid, said DeLong was selected for his professionalism and shouldn't be penalized because he was hired by a prior councilor. Councilor Kasia Quillinan said that the move may reflect Taylor's business mindset -- she co-founded and co-owns a metal roofing business -- but demonstrates that she "doesn't understand how city government is supposed to work."

Taylor, however, who holds a pilot's license, retains her cool. She says the matter has calmed, the manager has been "supportive of my transition" and any concerns will be taken up at an executive session today.

At a luncheon gathering Thursday, where she received a standing ovation from an economic development group, the 60-year-old mayor said: "I'm learning the ropes, even the ones trying to hang me."

Business groups are applauding the apparent demise of the meal-amusement tax, which was to take effect in July and would have raised money for after-school programs at Salem middle schools. It was passed late last year by the former council. The new council asked the city manager to draft an ordinance to rescind it.

Taylor also said at the luncheon that the council may need to rethink a series of planned sewer and water rate increases, especially with the upcoming closure of a Chiquita food processing plant. Some businesses have wanted their share of the rates capped.

She said she wasn't sure what other taxes the new council may want to review as it also decides how to handle a projected multi-million budget shortfall. Her priorities, she said, are jobs and public safety.

"You know, the city is a business," she said. "It needs to be run like a business." Cheryl Martinis: 503-399-8540;


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