I was laying out all the details about how much trouble I have had in getting access to documents referenced in the City's February 20, white paper about the wayfinding system but, I really have these concerns about boring my readers to death with the details of my plight.
All I wanted to do was offer a community service by providing some details and background on the wayfinding project which could remain a permanent research tool on the Internet. Suffice to say, it hasn't been easy tracking down the few documents I have sought.
Springfield's City Clerk Brenda Cirtin, who did not prepare the white paper, has provided me with at least half of what I asked for, and prior to this posting, she informed me she's working to find another documents I have requested. I believe she is doing the best she can to provide me with the requested documentation, and, when possible, she has directed me on a path to find certain information for myself. I recognize she is busy, and she's always very professional and kind every time I have a request for information. I don't blame her for not having every document at the tip of her fingers, especially considering she had no part in preparing the white paper, and I appreciate all her patient assistance.
Still, the inaccessibility of the reference documents noted in the white paper are frustrating. That frustration is the reason I considered detailing my difficulty in getting access to them. If I have this much trouble finding or acquiring the listed references, after a couple of years of experience in asking for information from the City, how much trouble would a citizen have, who is not accustomed to asking for this sort of information? Would they be as tempted as I am to simply throw up their hands and quit?
How many citizens of this City are so troubled by the questions they have concerning this issue that they'd go to the trouble an investigative reporter goes to just to read the documents cited in that white paper?
How many people bothered to read a 134 page Capital Improvement Program report prior to voting for the quarter-cent sales tax that supports it? Further, who really does that besides the media and a handful of citizens, and, for that matter, who in the media really does that any more?
Journalists seem to rush from meeting to meeting to file their reports, doing the best they can to, hurriedly, offer the public the surface details, hoping they didn't miss anything, asking only the most obvious of questions and oftentimes, not ever taking the time to verify whether the documentation they have been offered is entirely representative of the process.
Did the Council, in the space of time they were allowed to examine the white paper, adequately study the report and ask questions about it? Or, did they simply accept the noted "History & Timeline of Wayfinding Public Involvement Process," included in the white paper, without studying or looking into any of the references given?
Do they know that, at the meeting which took place on April 20, 2004, a question was asked about possible cost sharing for the project?
From the City Council Luncheon Notes of the April 20, 2004, meeting provided by Springfield City Clerk Brenda Cirtin:
"Question: Could the costs for the proposed wayfinding system be divided up between the City and other entities, such as UDA (Urban Districts Alliance) and CVB (Convention & Visitors Bureau)?
Answer: Mr. Corbin (Corbin Design Group) briefly discussed that the costs could be broken up between several entities regarding the proposed wayfinding system if desired. He added that federal or state grants via transportation enhancement monies are other options relating to financing a portion of the proposed wayfinding system."
Yet, for some reason, we've received no indication that the City has requested any other entity share in the cost of these signs. By all indications, the entire $600,000 cost will be paid through the taxpayers' 1/4 cent sales tax to fund capital improvement projects and this, even as, in today's News-Leader, Public Works Director Marc Thornsberry touted the opportunities the CIP gives the City to receive matching dollars for projects. Thornsberry offered the remarks in an effort to downplay the feasibility of a local group's idea to allow the CIP 1/4 cent sales tax to expire next year, a decision which would allow citizens to approve a 1/4 cent sales tax to fund the police and firefighter pension plan without an increase in taxes.
Although, I believe, I have been present at all the recent public discussions about the wayfinding signs, I've heard no elected City Council representative of Springfield taxpayers inquire about the possibility of cost sharing on this project.
Another small point that should be noted is the repeated use of the terms "advertising" and "marketing" throughout the references I have been able to search. Yet, when Councilman Burlison inquired about the possibility the City could open itself to liability by businesses not selected to be listed on the signs he was told by City Attorney Dan Wichmer, in a denial that the signs are advertisements, "It's not, 'Go visit Bass Pro,' it's 'if you're going to Bass Pro, this is how you get there.'" And yet, again, in the April 2, 2003, News-Leader article referenced by the City's white paper, City Manager Tom Finnie issued a warning:
"...City Manager Tom Finney told the council that the Wayfinding program could be "very controversial" in deciding which sites are advertised and which are not."
Perhaps Mr. Burlison's question should have been taken a bit more seriously and perhaps he shouldn't have acquiesced so quickly to Mr. Wichmer's response?
Next, what was the "public input" that set the City on this wayfinding project path? There were lots of meetings which would have been posted as public meetings. The first reference on "Appendix A -- History & Timeline of Wayfinding Public Involvement Process" of the City's whitepaper was the "August 3, 1998 -- Community Physical Image Plan Element of the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive Plan." City Clerk Brenda Cirtin sent me a copy of that document. It does not list the members of the focus group who introduced the goal of that "element" of the Vision 20/20 Plan as guiding:
"...City ordinances, capital improvements and site plan reviews to gradually improve the overall physical appearance of the built environment."
The white paper notes:
"The Community Image Plan Element described the City-wide pathfinder sign system: A city-wide “pathfinder system" would help visitors and residents find their way around the City and improve the community’s image. The system would consist of consistent and colorful informational signs that identify and give directions to the community’s many facilities and attractions. The pathfinder signs, which could be either internally lit or metal, and either freestanding or mounted on existing structures (such as light poles), could includea symbol of each facility, the name and a directional arrow. They also could include a city symbol or logo element to reinforce the community theme.
Starting points for the pathfinder sign system should include arterial roadways near interchanges with the major perimeter highways such as I-44, U.S. 65 or the James River Freeway. Signs should be clustered along the arterial roads at periodic intervals, particularly before turning points. Placement should be more frequent in Greater Downtown and near SMSU, which may have a higher density of destinations and more visitors."
The white paper also tells us in Appendix B that The Team for Direction & Coordination included the Springfield Wayfinding Core Group and Springfield Wayfinding Stakeholder Participants, noting both the Core Group and the Stakeholder Participants were identified by position at the inception of the group. This tells me they may have been the "public input" involved or, at least, participants, in the creation of the Community Physical Image Plan Element of the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive Plan, since the white paper has indicated that plan was the beginning point of discussions about the Wayfinding signs. I cannot be sure but, since those are the only groups we can definitely identify at the moment, it's worth noting who made up "The Team for Direction & Coordination:"
Wayfinding Core Group: 5 Springfield (City) Planning and Development employees; 3 City Public Works Department employees; 1 Greene County Planning employee; 3 MoDOT representatives; 1 Ozarks Transportation Organization representative; 1 Convention and Visitors Bureau President; 1 Chamber of Commerce representative; and 1 Urban Districts Alliance representative.
Wayfinding Stakeholders: 3 Bass Pro representatives; 1 Wonders of Wildlife representative; 2 Springfield-Greene County Parks employees; 1 Drury University representative; 1 Urban Districts Alliance representative; 1 Downtown Community representative; 1 Downtown Community Improvement District representative; 2 MSU representatives; 1 Battlefield Mall representative; 1 Evangel University representative; 1 Cox Medical Center representative; 1 St. John's Regional Health Center representative; 1 Hammon's Field representative; and 1 Greater Springfield Sports Commision and Foundation representative.
Is this the "public input" that went into the Community Physical Image Plan Element of the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive Plan? The public input which made the decision a Wayfinding System should be included in the capital improvements project list? I'm just asking. I'd invite a representative of the public information office of the City to answer any question he or she feels inclined to answer in the comment section of this entry.
Further, for a person, such as myself, who would like to return to ground zero and look at the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive or Strategic Plan, it was an eye opener for me to find out there are many different "elements" to the plan, and, apparently, they are not all included in a single document, rather, if what I recently received is any indication, they are published in separate, elemental reports.
If this is representative of what City officials regularly tout as "public input" when insisting our elected City Council representatives follow through with projects which have received "public input," I'm simply not impressed.
(I have asked the City how many Vision 20/20 elemental plans or reports there are. I have not yet received an answer to that question, at least, not at the time of this posting.)
Do I have an "agenda?" Yes. To put it bluntly, I do have an agenda. My agenda is to look beyond the surface and not merely accept everything the City of Springfield tells me in their news release or white papers at face value. My agenda is to challenge information provided by the City.
You see, I'm not the only one who has an agenda. The City of Springfield has an agenda, too. The City of Springfield has a paid staff to push through their agenda, an asset the public does not have. The public's elected representatives are not even paid, for heaven's sake!
We have no paid staff looking out for our best interest!
So, when I see, as the only list of participants who can be identified as participants in the "public" process, a list of City, County and State government employees, staff and representatives of local organizations which the City has great interest in and utilizes for collaborative efforts to pass sales taxes, among other things, and businesses who stand to benefit by tourists being directed to their businesses via these signs, listed as the Wayfinding System's Core group and collaborators, you better bet I question the City's definition of "public input." What was "public" about it??? That the meetings were all posted as public meetings??? That a couple of newspaper articles were written about it years ago, before the Council resolved to enter into a contract for more than $300,000, with more expenditures to come??? And what was the past cost in consulting fees, design work and staff time prior to this "phase???"
Related: "A bad sign for common sense"