Who's to blame for Salem's $34 million Courthouse Square debacle? Here's one: Patti Milne, for starters.

By Brian Hines of Salem, Oregon. Brian describes himself as "a progressive blogger who has been involved in land use issues for some time." He typically blogs at HinesSight. Previously, he contributed "Oregon wine country protected by Appeals Court decision enforcing Measure 49".

Patti Milne is a Republican Marion County Commissioner. She took office in January 1999.

Courthouse Square is a $34 million disaster in downtown Salem. It opened in 2000 and was shut down completely in 2010.

How Commissoner Milne and Courthouse Square interrelate is a subject of increasing interest.

Milne correctly claims that she opposed the construction of a large five-story building to house county offices, which was combined with a bus mall to fill an entire block (it sits across from the County Courthouse, hence the name "Courthouse Square.")

Dangerously weak concrete is a key reason why both the bus mall and building have been evacuated, with no prospect of an early return. In fact, Courthouse Square may be a complete loss.

Today I took a few photos of the site. A chain link fence blocks access to the area where people used to wait for buses.

Courthouse Square 1
The county office building, which also housed a coffee shop and restaurant, is locked up tight. It has 163,000 square feet of space. Three hundred fifty people used to work there.

Courthouse Square 2
Now it's a useless $34 million testimony to a complex series of design, management, construction, and oversight screw-ups. A recent front page story in Salem's Statesman Journal describes the debacle, ably summarized by the story's title: "Courthouse Square's Red Flags: Project's failures extend beyond bad engineering."

Politicians and other public officials are eager to take credit for successes, but usually run away from assuming responsibility for failures. Courthouse Square is no exception. The newspaper story says:

Public and private sector officials involved in the $34 million project say they performed their duties as assigned. They maintain the problems at Courthouse Square were outside the scope of their responsibilities or were caused by someone else.

The one person everyone agrees is at fault: Hayford, the structural engineer.

Hayford can't accept or deny blame. He died nine years ago.

Well, here's a good candidate for a living person to blame: Patti Milne.

She is still a member of the Marion County Board of Commissioners. Marion County is a primary owner of Courthouse Square. Milne is the only current commissioner who was in office both while the project was under construction and when the first serious cracks in concrete were noticed early on in February 2000.

Noticed, then ignored -- even though the Courthouse Square project manager urged that the problems be investigated further. Milne and her fellow county commissioners sat by while Courthouse Square crumbled.

Irritatingly, Milne won't accept any responsibility for her failure to deal with the early signs of serious construction problems. For more details, read my blog post: "Patti Milne oversaw the failure of Salem's Courthouse Square".

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    This sounds a little too harsh. She originally opposed it. What is it, exactly, that further investigation would have accomplished after cracks were discovered? If the building was built, with bad concrete, what could have been done after it's built that would have made any difference?

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