Neil Harvey, a government writer for the local daily, has a solid piece in today's edition (here) about the near-unanimous voting patterns of Salem City Council, something that is about as old as the city.
I covered Salem City Council something more than 20 years ago and some of my richest memories are of Council passing its consent agenda unanimously (these are items it believes it has total accord) and five minutes later a pack of lawyers would show up ready for battle on one of the issues only to find they'd missed the vote. They'd fume and spit and threaten, but Mayor Jim Taliaferro, as the saying went at the time, ran "a tight meeting." So tight that there was little discussion on most issues.
Taliaferro famously told people speaking on an issue, "We have all night to listen to you as long as you don't repeat yourself or repeat somebody else." That repetition often came far faster than the speaker realized and he'd be gavelled to his seat.
The rumor is old and persistent about council members gathering for lunch on the day of its weekly meetings and making its decisions then. The meetings in my time were at Tarpley's, a jewelry store and lunch counter (which served the best rolls I've ever eaten). The council table was in the right rear corner and nobody dared sit there before council had its gathering.
It was about as open as anything in Salem and as matter-of-fact. The old-line members will deny it today, but anybody who ate at Tarpley's in the 1970s and 1980s will tell you about it. I'm not sure what the legality about lunching was at that time, but today, it can't happen without public notice.
The last time I recall a dust-up of any significance in Salem was when City Council decided to develop land near the Salem Civic Center and put up a large water tower (pictured here) that later earned the nickname honoring the mayor at the time. Cleaning it up a bit, the water tower became "Sonny Tarpley's Penis." But this argument wasn't so much within Salem as it was with a group of "you ain't from around here, are you?" newcomers who were apparently some kind of environmental Nazis, if the rumors were true. The dissidents were branded nut cases, thrown out of council meetings and peace returned to Heaven. Sonny Tarpley's Penis still watches over that end of Salem.
One simple fact remains in all this: Salem voters would have it no other way. These people totally trust their governing body in a way that small towns often do and that larger municipalities never do. And, as the Italians under Mussolini contended: "The trains run on time."