Sunday, February 24, 2008

In response to a comment on Council Bill 2008-058

I decided to post this response to Jason's question on my last post about the City's Green Building policy resolution, Council Bill 2008-058, as an entry rather than in the comment section. Mainly, I just felt it was too long and covered too much territory to post in the comment section.

It is personal toward Jason because it is in response to his comment on concerns I raised about the Green Building Policy. He asked:

"Well, a question...if they (Council) had just done it and citizens found out later about the green building standard and perhaps higher construction costs...would we have a whole host of blog entries/talk radio show rants/talk radio phone calls/letters to the editor from all around the Ozarks about it being "done in secret"?

At least they're being open about it."

My response:

Jason, certainly the City Council makes requests of staff all the time. When they, as a whole, make requests of staff it is usually done in an open forum, at least that's what the Sunshine Law requires and we assume it is so unless they cite state law which makes it legal for Council to meet in closed session. Generally, when the public perceives they haven't had an opportunity to weigh in on an issue it's because they weren't paying attention and LOST their opportunity, not that there wasn't an opportunity in the first place.

Then, that scenario brings rise to what I think is the deeper question.

Look at the Storage Container issue for an example, and honestly I haven't had a chance to look over the proposed ordinance closely yet, but I did attend the last storage container meeting before they drafted it. At that meeting the owner of "Pods" was there and he was concerned about the signage being restricted to 12" x 12" for very legitimate reasons. His signage is larger and it is EMBEDDED into the pods but the limitations of signage wasn't changed when the draft was released. So sometimes, it seems that regardless of public input and how legitimate it is the City makes decisions, after celebrating a whole host of public input sessions, that appear to disregard legitimate issues. It makes it appear to be almost a bait and switch, the City has public input, is able to pat themselves on the back for providing ample opportunity for it and then, BAM! The City disregards it and does what they want anyway.

Offering an opportunity for public input isn't enough. There has to be a genuine want to listen, consider and make changes that legitimately rise out of those input sessions.

Look at Park Central Square, lots of opportunity for public input but no real consideration of the fact that it is a Halprin design. Should it have been a part of the process for the City to acknowledge and educate the public about the renowned landscape architect who designed it? Well, I think so, because clearly, now we may have a legal problem brewing because the public didn't realize the value of a Halprin design until it was, in the City's mind, too late to incorporate it and stay within the timeline of the Heer's development agreement. That was poor planning, in my opinion. Now, it seems to be a ticking time bomb, an unnecessary ticking time bomb that if handled correctly from the beginning could likely have been defused months ago, when there was time to handle it. To further complicate things, Councilman Chiles, on the Vincent David Jericho program said he DID raise that question at one of the first public input meetings. Tim Rosenbury later told me that if he'd considered Halprin's design earlier, right after Ruth Kelley's letter hit the News-Leader, the consideration wouldn't have effected the timeline.

The question in this posting is, and was in the previous posting I made about the Green Building Policy: Is it necessary to pass a resolution in order to build green? The city's attorney said no, it isn't. I question taxpayer money and resources being spent unnecessarily for really, no other reason than to make a statement about "being a leader in sustainability." There's nothing wrong with being a leader in sustainability but taxpayer MONEY could have been "sustained" without passing an unnecessary resolution meant to do nothing but make a statement.

Your question about, "if they had just done it and citizens found out later about the green building standard and perhaps higher construction costs...would we have a whole host of blog entries/talk radio show rants/talk radio phone calls/letters to the editor from all around the Ozarks about it being "done in secret"? With the addition of your statement: "At least they're being open about it." Do you mean to imply they've done something special by being open about it? There shouldn't be anything "special" about the Council doing something in the open. Under the Sunshine Law they are very limited in what they can do "in secret." Certainly, when the City does a good job they should be commended however, the openness of government, by law a requirement, should not be viewed as something "special".

It is a welcome thing to ask for public input and a good START, but then, when looking back over the process later, after all is said and done, the real proof in the pudding is whether the City Council holds the staff and contracted employees accountable for actually considering that input, all of it, not just the part that supports what they want to accomplish. There's where public input counts. It isn't in the opportunity to have it, it isn't in the opportunity the City then has to hear it, it is in the opportunity the city has to utilize it when it is legitimate. The Council is supposed to be representative of the people who voted them into their positions

I've heard Mayor Pro Tem Deaver on more than one occasion say, "We can't please everyone" and that's true. They'll never please everyone BUT, that said, I don't recall ANY member of the public making a statement that they think Council's actions SHOULD please everyone. That makes that statement a straw man argument, because no one has ever indicated the people expect the Council to please everyone. So, why bring that up? Is that an appeasment meant to excuse the Council for making decisions that don't consider legitimate complaints from the public they are supposed to represent?

I suspect your question wasn't raised to be answered, it was raised to make a statement but if asked in question form you are protected from being questioned about your assumption. The fact is, we don't and can't know the answer to your question. This is why I suspect it was raised to raise suspicion about someone who expressed a legitimate concern about the Green Building Policy. That's my take on it because it certainly didn't address my concern about the policy or anything I actually wrote. What does your question have to do with my concern about the unnecessary and perhaps untimely taxpayer money and resources spent to bring this bill to Council?


Jason said...

"If they wanted attention they could have just built green and at the ribbon cutting announced they'd had the building built to LEED Silver Certification standards and that they plan to continue and would encourage the community and other businesses to do the same."

This is the statement to which I raised the question. That would have them doing something without making it known ahead of time they've put that in place.

Sorry to disappoint you, but the question was a real question and it wasn't an insult at you.

Jackie Melton said...

You know as well as I do that the City doesn't just "do" anything, or I'd like to hope you know that by now.

There would be discussion in the open. My point all along has been that they don't need a resolution in order to build green, the City's OWN attorney has said so.

You and I also both know that the public doesn't always pay attention and then they wonder how something happened. I don't put the responsibility for the public not being involved in the process off on the City or the City Council, no, it is the fault of the citizen who failed to stay involved in the process and missed their opportunity for expressing their viewpoint on the issue by not paying attention. I've written about that in the past, you've read it in the past, this isn't the first post I've ever written, it wasn't done in a vacuume any more that the Council would advise the staff to build green in secret.

For your benefit AND THE BENEFIT OF OTHER READERS, I have pointed out that even though they would have been doing it without a resolution it would have still been done in the open, not in a "secret meeting."

You haven't "disappointed me," nor have you "insulted me," you have provided me with an opportunity to really look at your question, a question some others might have asked, as well. Aren't you honored I gave it so much thought? I thought you would be, if as you say, you asked the question as a real question you should be pleased I gave it such time and thought and your apology is completely unnecessary.

Your question, bottom line, could be interpreted to mean, "Well, a question...if you weren't complaining about this wouldn't you be complaining about that?"

I haven't, personally, accused the City Council of doing anything in secret in the past because I recognize that legally they can't, except for certain issues exempt from the Sunshine Law. So, I guess the short answer to your question is: NO. It wouldn't happen that way because it wouldn't be done in secret in the first place.

Thank you for the opportunity you gave me to clarify that and to make some points I've been meaning to make. Chief among them:

"Offering an opportunity for public input isn't enough. There has to be a genuine want to listen, consider and make changes that legitimately rise out of those input sessions."

We all know that some ideas the public has are legitimate and some are not. For instance, in the case at the Town Hall meeting Wiley had, when a woman who lived on Cherokee asked about putting speed bumps in the road, the traffic engineer explained why that wasn't feasible and everyone could understand why it wasn't feasible. On the other hand, there was close to a year of public input on Park Central Square but the concerns about it being a Halprin design weren't really dealt with other than to save the fountain, and in the case of the container ordinance the very reasonable suggestion that the signage limitation would effect someone like the pod owner, whose signage is embedded into his containers appears to have been ignored altogether.

I've given you an illegitimate suggestion and two legitimate ones, when the legitimate ones are ignored it usually spells out more trouble down the road.

What's the answer? The city should actually ACT on legitimate concerns raised by the public, not give the public reason to perceive that the City simply wishes they'd take their complaint or suggestion and go away and/or ignore them so that those already exposed "time bombs" have the capacity to derail the entire process. Having a public input process isn't "the end" happy conclusion, it's the MEANS to "the end" happy conclusion.

Don't take the discussion personally, I haven't. It's an OPPORTUNITY. Remember? Someone once told me that sharing my opinion could open a valuable discussion having the capacity to provide a solution, or something like that. :)

Busplunge said...

Jackie, I have posted on almost the same subject and got so much hate mail I started moderating comments.

Jackie Melton said...

I'm sorry to hear you got hatemail over it, Jim. That's a sad situation. Discussion of ideas and opinions should be met with open minds not hate filled, closed minds.

I have seen your posts that mention the city will do what it wants in the end anyway. There is certainly some merit to that statement based on past and recent history.