Monday, March 02, 2009

Springfield City Council: Danged if they Do on so Many Levels!

a challenge for you

Recently, in two, separate posts, I've called attention to the Vision 20/20 process, a process which involved much trumpeting on the part of the City as to the amount of public input the process had received, both then and now, and how the results of that process still relate to the priorities set in Springfield's, taxpayer approved funded, Capital Improvement Program at least a decade later.

I also wrote about City Manager Greg Burris' worst case scenario presentation in an entry I entitled "Danged if They Do." It should be noted the worst case scenarios were performed by the City Manager at the request of the City Council, who didn't think previous scenarios Burris had presented were reflective of as negative a tax revenue base for the upcoming budget as they should have been. He was doing what they asked him to do.

I asked readers and myself, and answered myself:

"Do we want a Council that will look ahead to the future in an effort to be prepared for a worse case scenario or don't we? I think we do."

There's nothing wrong with looking ahead to the future, in fact, it's a commendable action for the Council to take, if we're honest with ourselves and others, we play out worst case scenarios as we make decisions about our own finances and our own lives, if not every day, then very often.

Today, I'll add another question and hopefully, make some other points because, it appears to me that the Council and the City government recently found themselves in another "danged if they do" kind of situation.

Do we want a City Council and City government who asks for and considers public input in their capital expenditure, priority project selection? Again, I think we do.

In the second of the two recent entries I wrote, I asked Ann Razer, who oversees the Vision 20/20 Process, a tough question about who the "hundreds" of people were who contributed to the Vision 20/20 Process back in the 1990s, I felt it was pertinent because," they are being allowed to speak on behalf of every tax payer in the City of Springfield and every tax payer in Greene-County. I summed up the question(s) by telling Ms. Razer, I believe these unanswered questions (who the "input contributors" were and whether they had or have associated financial ties with the City of Springfield) are the primary cause of most of the underlying suspicion present among Springfield/Greene County tax payers today.

The questions I raised and the identities of those participants in the public input process might not seem so important if citizens felt their elected representatives were, over the years since the Vision 20/20 process took place, carefully considering each expenditure and making sure priorities were set appropriately as the years have ticked away slowly. Because, as I also pointed out, in that post: The reasoning behind the Wayfinding sign project's approval is, and was, that the public had voted to approve the 2007-2011 CIP (now available at a City Web site, near you) 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.

I don't mean to bore people with repeating information from previous blog entries, but I think it is important to note, just as it is commendable to have a City Council willing to look at worst case scenarios for a future budget, it is important to have a City Council (and City government) willing to take and consider public input on such processes as Vision 20/20 and future resolutions to the pension fund issue.

That, however, is not to say those processes shouldn't be revisited regularly. In the case of the Vision 20/20 process, Ms. Razer wrote, "At the time of adoption, I think the citizens were more familiar with the plan than they are today." Certainly, I agree with Ms. Razer. People today are not nearly as familiar with the Vision 20/20 process as they were when it was taking place and being approved by our representative Council. I wonder if the participants of that process, years ago, would even agree with themselves, today, on what should be priority expenditures in the City's Capital Improvement Plan?

That is why the title, "danged if they do" continues to be appropriate. The question isn't and shouldn't be whether the City government and Council should seek, value, and consider seriously, public input. Of course they should, and they shouldn't be "danged" if they do.

The question is, should there be expiration dates stamped on the bottom of public input process "cartons?" How many years should public input be valued as having relevance? Should such plans be used for an infinite number of years? If such processes should be revisited, then how often should they be revisited? What should that process be and how could the process be undertaken so that it doesn't translate into large expenditures of taxpayers dollars, sure to cause more indigestion? In other words, how long before Vision 20/20 sours like milk in the carton? ( or "clabborates?" heh)

Further questions should relate to how and when did the public begin to feel such a disenfranchisement from their own City government and Council and how can the general public retrieve what they view as lost representation?

You see, that all cuts both ways.

Will a new City Council consider such questions or follow the recommendation of staff, based on, what some may perceive, as outdated public input processes?

Will the general public, at large, feel the new Council is accessible to the public and will they begin to communicate to the Council their own priorities and wishes, their ideas of what constitute core City services? The public will certainly continue to be danged as long as they don't.

The 2008 Citizen Survey revealed that of the approximately 800 or so respondents to that survey, only 9 percent had attended a City Council meeting in the last 12 months.

When was the last time you attended a City Council meeting? When was the last time you picked up the phone and called your Council representative? When was the last time you visited the City's Web site and located your City Council representative's email address and shot him or her an email?

You, Joe and Josephine, are not immune from responsibility. I would challenge you to make an attempt to have your voices heard, if you are not currently doing so.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

RE: Council

It is the damn things they have done in the past which makes them so darned danged now.

At least they now know not to be some dang dumb in the future.