Friday, February 27, 2009

Vision 20/20 Inspired, Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) should be Revisited, Suspended by the City Council

or tossed in the "paper only" recycling bin until further notice

And, yes, I know the CIP sales tax was voter approved, as was the recent 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax, which was rolled into the CIP by the City Council at a recent, past Council meeting. I understand that, as a voter approved sales tax, it isn't as simple as the City Council suspending or tossing the CIP.

I also know a new group, Save Our Springfield (SOS), has recommended that the new Council, to be elected in early April, combined with current Council members Doug Burlison, Ralph Manley, Dan Chiles and Cindy Rushefsky, provide a ballot allowing for the expiration of the 1/4-cent CIP sales tax, rather than one calling for extension of the sales tax, and instead, provide for a 1/4-cent pension fund sales tax initiative to replace it. By allowing the CIP sales tax to sunset and be replaced by a pension sales tax proposal of the same amount on the ballot, voters could approve the 1/4-cent pension sales tax with no increase in taxes.

Later, after the pension plan shortfall has been addressed, through that 1/4-cent pension sales tax and other contributions from the City, (I don't think anyone is expecting the 1/4-cent sales tax to completely repair the pension shortfall), SOS has stated, the CIP could be brought back for renewal. In fact, such a move might even allow the City adequate time to revisit the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive and Strategic Plans before the CIP sales tax is placed on the ballot in the future.

My understanding of the CIP is that it is a necessary evil the City must prepare, and the Council must approve, in order for the City to request matching funds from other government entities, much like the Five Year Consolidated Plan, the current Council is expected to approve before the April election, is required in order for the City "to be eligible to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program" (as I noted on page 4 of the December 17, 2008 issue of "Community Free Press," under the heading of "CITY COUNCIL UPDATE: Community Block Grants Could Fund Enforcement").

In fact, I was assured by the City's Special Project Manager Mike Brothers, that in regards to the 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax, recently rolled into the CIP, when a 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax project is proposed as a cost share, it does come before the City Council (see: "Update on 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax Issue"). At the time of that "update," back on July 30, 2008, I had questions about when and under what bill identification the 1/8-cent Transportation Sales Tax project(s) would come before the City Council.

In his June 29, 2008, email to me, Brothers wrote:

"...anything involving the 1/8 cent goes to Council. Any kind of cost share with MoDOT or private developers or anyone else would go to Council for approval. Smaller projects on down to sidewalks would still have to be bid out to developers and that would require Council approval, too. So there are no staff decisions (if that's what you meant by administrative) as to how to allocate the money."

Why does it matter in regards to the Vision 20/20 public input process? Because CIP projects are predicated by the public input process which resulted in the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive and Strategic Plans.

Brother's assurances that Council would oversee and have an opportunity to revisit any project the City had proposed was meant to satisfy me, and my readers, that the public would have another opportunity to weigh in and the final decision on any given Transportation Sales Tax project would be approved by Springfield's elected representatives and not administratively, just as the recent Wayfinding Sign project was placed as a one reading resolution for the approval of our elected representatives before the City could go ahead with an over $300,000 contract with a Michigan company to design and fabricate Wayfinding signs. Our representatives were split on that vote, but a lame duck Council of four plus, one Councilwoman Cindy Rushefsky, chose to approve the contract and continue the project.

The publics' voices were heard. Right?

At the Council luncheon, when it was decided, at the request of Councilman Denny Whayne, to reconsider whether now was the time to go forward with the Wayfinding Sign contract, I believe it was Mayor Carlson who said public input had already been received, leaving, at least, this lowly blogger with the impression that Council would be revisiting it, not the public.

Somehow, I'm not sure how it happened, but somehow, six members of the public who, mostly, happened to be representatives of organizations associated or loosely associated with Springfield City government, happened to be there to turn in cards to speak in support of the Wayfinding Sign project, before it was even added to the February 23, Council agenda. A couple of other citizens, who just happen to regularly attend meetings, managed to slip a card to the City Clerk in time to address the other side of the issue but, there was no real notice given to the public that they'd have another opportunity to speak to the issue prior to the meeting.

I note this occurence because it seemed inconsistant with another recent meeting, in which Councilwoman Rushefsky wanted to question Walmart representatives, who happened to be in attendance that night, about a bill but the Mayor, instead, said there would need to be notice that the issue would be reopened, so those members of the public who were not aware it would be reopened that night, could make plans to be in attendance for the next meeting:

"Rushefsky made a motion to continue the bill (to the next meeting) because she wanted to question Wal-Mart representatives on behalf of her constituents, and this could only be accomplished (according to Mayor Tom Carlson) by reopening the public hearing. Continuing it will allow the public to have notice the hearing has been reopened, (so the public would know they had another opportunity to speak to the issue) Rushefsky’s motion was passed by a majority of Council." (See CFP's December 3, 2008, issue and go to TV23 and click on the November 24, 2008, City Council meeting and then the bookmark for Bill number 2008-344 to hear Carlson's reasoning.)

There was no vote taken for a continuance, to make sure the public was aware the Wayfinding sign issue was reopened for public hearing at the meeting wherein Council revisited the Wayfinding sign contract, and subsequently, approved it. I found that interesting considering 6 people who supported the Wayfinding sign project took their chances they'd be allowed to speak. Do you find that interesting?

The reasoning behind the Wayfinding sign projects approval is, and was, that the public had voted to approve the 2007-2010 CIP (now available at a City Web site, linked below) which listed the project. But, as noted, the City Council, as the taxpayers' representatives, are expected to have the final say, and the City Councils' final say should take into account the voters' wishes at the moment the expenditure(s) are approved. The CIP represents a wish list of the City government based on a wish list of the public who happened to attend the Vision 20/20 meetings and offered their opinions about priorities. For an interesting read on that ongoing (?) process, check out: "busplunge: Sidewalks: Ferguson, New & Weaver OR Fort Street? Campbell Street?"

Excerpts from the busplunge entry:

"Almost four years ago, on Saturday, May 1, 2004, 35 people attended a Fassnight neighborhood assessment workshop held in the Portland Elementary School all purpose room....

...I shoulda gone, my neighbor thinks he should have gone. This is almost like the 350 people who made up Vision 20/20 deciding things for the city or that small group who went to the quarry meeting. We shoulda gone, yep, shoulda, coulda, woulda."

Who represents the City of Springfield or your neighborhood? 35 people? 350 people? Hundreds of people?

If the 35 or 350 people "the bus" referred to, represent the entire voting population's views on what are priority projects of the City, all I can say is "God, please help us."

I've sent an email to the City Clerk with a request that she forward it to the City staff employee in charge of overseeing the Vision 20/20 process. I asked some questions which haven't been answered yet but that, I feel, hold great relevance to the Vision 20/20 process and the priorities set in the CIP.

The Vision 20/20 Strategic Plan states:

"The 2004 VISION 20/20 Strategic Plan for Springfield and Greene County is an outgrowth of the planning process undertaken in the mid-1990s and the plan elements that were prepared and adopted as a result of that planning process. The process was citizen-driven and involved hundreds of volunteers...."

Questions I have asked in an email:

"I believe people who are interested in coming to an understanding of the Vision 20/20 Comprehensive and Strategic Plans want to know the identities and associations of the citizens who "drove" the process and the hundreds of volunteers who decided how capital expenditures should be spent on the Springfield/Greene-County taxpayers' behalf.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on one's perspective) people are suspicious of who this "public" was who decided what the City would spend their tax dollars on from the inception of the plan and forever after. Personally, and I think most people would agree, the citizens involved in a process which determined future expenditures for, what appears to have become eternity, should be identified, as they are being allowed to speak on behalf of every tax payer in the City of Springfield and every tax payer in Greene-County. People want to know who these people were who determined the future growth of our City and therefore, the use of their taxes and whether these people have associational ties within the City government, for instance, are they members of non-profit groups whose budgets have been or were being subsidized from the City of Springfield's general budget? I believe these unanswered questions are the primary cause of most of the underlying suspicion present among Springfield/Greene County tax payers today. Since it was a public process, that information should also be public information, correct?"

If I get the answer to that question, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, here is some information I alluded to providing in a previous comment under another posting:

Vision 20/20 Questions and Answers:

Question: In total, how many different "elements" are there to the Vision 20/20 Plan?

Answer: Eight.

Question: May I have a complete list of each of the different "elements" which have generated a separate Vision 20/20 document or report?

Answer: Center City, Community Facilities, Community Physical Image and Character, Growth Management and land use, Historic Preservation, Neighborhoods, Parks Open Space and Greenways, Transportation

Question: How many total pages are there in the Vision 20/20 Plan when one adds up all the different reports covering different "elements" of the plan?

Answer: Based on the copies online:

> Historic Preservation and Land Use – 118 pages
> Center City – 108 pages
> Community Facilities – 52 pages
> Community Physical Image and Character – 46 pages
> Growth Management – 30 pages
> Neighborhoods – 47 pages
> Parks, Open Space, and Greenways – 182 pages
> Transportation – 254 pages

> TOTAL PAGES – 837 pages

Question: Finally, a rhetorical question (since I got an answer, I am posting this): How can the average working citizen of this City be expected to be informed when such a document is so inaccessible (prior to my queries) and so much of the City's capital expenditures are linked to it?

Answer: By definition, a rhetorical question does not request an answer – however, this is a very good question. Over 350 citizens of Springfield and Greene County worked a total of roughly 16 months on the background for this comprehensive plan. The actual documents were written by a consultant. A decision was made to use a consultant to avoid hiring additional staff. There were numerous public events to present and get feedback on the elements of plan before adoption. This included the VisionFest which was a day-long Saturday event attended by roughly 1,000 citizens. The newspaper and television stations gave coverage to the plan. At the time of adoption, I think the citizens were more familiar with the plan than they are today.

All the elements are on the City’s website and have been for some time. The elements of the plan were adopted between 1998 and 2001.

(Source: Ann Razer. I do not know Ms. Razer's official title but according to the City Clerk she is, "presently over the Vision 20/20 process")

While all the elements to the plan are available at the City's Web site, they were not easily accessible to the public because they were not listed under the headings of Vision 20/20 and CIP, at the time I began my search the only CIP document which was currently available was the most recent report approved by the City Council. I had to seek assistance from the City Clerk and Ms. Razer in order to locate them as they were listed under a "Comprehensive Planning Office" page, apparently, the Comprehensive Planning Office is a branch of the Planning & Development Department of Planning Services. I will note that the City Clerk and Ms. Razer have made available documents which were not available online when I first began looking for them. Yesterday, the Vision 20/20 Strategic Plan was added and today past CIP reports have been added and are now available to the public online. It is for this reason I have confidence in the City of Springfield's City Clerk. She listens and she addresses issues as they are raised. We should all thank her for her responsiveness. I'll also note, I have not checked the City's Web site to see if they might have honored my recommendation that they list these items in the City Web site's "Site Map" under Vision 20/20 and CIP so that the general public can more easily access them but, it wouldn't surprise me if that wily Clerk hadn't taken action on that, as well. Thanks, Ms. Cirtin!

The links are listed as "Planning Documents and Reports for Download," here are the available links:

Comprehensive Plan (all are PDF)

> Center City
> Community Facilities
> Community Physical Image and Character
> Growth Management and Land Use
> Historic Preservation
> Neighborhoods
> Parks, Open Space, and Greenways
> Transportation
> Capital Improvements Program 2009-2014
> Capital Improvements Program 2008-2013
> Capital Improvements Program 2007-2012
> Capital Improvements Program 2006-2011
> Southeast Springfield Development Study
> Vision 20/20 Strategic Plan
> Year End Report, Year 3
> Year End Report, Year 2
> Year End Report, Year 1

Additional information. There were complaints from City Manager Greg Burris that voter turn out was low in the February 3 election, in which voters voted down a 1 percent sales tax to fund the police and firefighters pension plan. Because voter turnout has been reported to be consistently low in all February elections, I asked County Clerk Richard Struckhoff for some information going back to 1998 on voter turnout for February elections. Following is the information from that query as provided in documents made available by the Greene County Clerk*:

Percentage of voter turnout for February election in:

1998: 22.59
2001: 9.19
2002: 20.70
2003: 7.01
2004: 24.34
2005: 2.98
2007: 6.56
2008: 39.11
2009: 17.15**

*If a year is not listed, there was no February election held in February of that year

Update: **I averaged the February election voter turn out from 1998-2008 (or over a 10 year period) by totalling the turn out for those years and dividing that sum by the total of years represented (8), that average was 16.56 percent February election voter turn out, making the 17.15 percent voter turn out for the February 2009, election slightly above the 10 year average for February election voter turn out (0.59%).

If that total represented by the last ten years is divided by 10 years as opposed to the 8 years represented, the average would be 13.25 percent. Which would make the February, 2009 election above the average of February election voter turn out by almost 4 percent (3.9%).



tom said...

ever think about running for council ??

Jackie Melton said...


For a free lunch once a week?

County Commissioners get paid a lot better. ;)

JUST KIDDING!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'd be satisfied with a newspaper seeing the value of the work I perform as a community service.

There isn't any value placed on truly investigative and analytical reporting therefore, eventually it will go away altogether as those who wish to provide it seek a living wage busin' diner tables or washin' dishes.

Good luck in your Council run. I've got some things to say about that, eventually. That is if I ain't too busy busin' a table somewhere, instead.

Anonymous said...

ever think about running for council ??

For a free lunch once a week?

Someone please take JH out to lunch sometime... ( vdj does not even eat lunch anymore...)

she deserves one.

Anonymous said...

Good Job!

Anonymous said...

Vision 20/20 Inspired, Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) should be Revisited, Suspended by the City Council....

Does Vision 20/20 include all the bright ideas of JQH that the public will eventually have to pay for ??

I belived the public is on the hook for about a 100 million dollars worth of his stuff with his name on it.