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Don Buch (user 174) - Comments by Date

I agree with Dave Cavanaugh – this is a disappointing product given all the time and effort that has been devoted to it. The Beauregard Plan was supposedly one major catalyst for “What’s Next” but so far the City appears to have missed the message it offered. Whatever its flaws, it came about because the community was unhappy with consultants from out-of-state showing up once a month and telling us what they (and the City administration) were going to do and how much we were going to like it. The initial lack of citizen involvement precipitated what became a very different process.

Despite that history it appears the City did not learn from it. The composition of the What’s Next team “spanned multiple departments” (there’s a lengthy list) and “a resident” - a resident! And the inevitable consultants. Yet again this fuels the perception that the City believes they know best with the implication that 10 or so from City Hall and one resident is about the right balance – to determine and address residents’ concerns!

For now the focus was/is apparently to center around “planning”. It would be interesting to see the What’s Next attendance figures from meeting to meeting, broken down by the various constituencies (elected officials, City Administration officials, Planning staff, co-opted City staff, consultants, general public, etc.). One might note that members of City boards and commissions are expected to attend at least 75% of their meetings or risk being removed. There is a clear perception that some groups did not “walk their talk”.

To some people the “Handbook” reads very much like a broad, generic project management checklist that could equally apply to most any city of size in this country. There appears to be little, if anything, that is specific to Alexandria. One senses there are a myriad of very similar documents and guidebooks in libraries and cities across the country which inevitably begs the question – what has this cost us?

Aspirational checklists may be nice but these are not breakthrough concepts; the problem is that we don’t implement them. For sake of example: despite What’s Next having been underway for 11 months, little appears to have changed in the SUP approval process. The community still sees the staff report – which may exceed 100 pages and contain major decisions the public was not previously aware of – roughly a week before it is to be voted upon. Take away the weekend and there are 5 days for civic associations to meet, residents to meet with the Planning Department, Planning Commissioners, elected representatives, property owners, etc. Then members of the public can have 3 minutes apiece to speak and shortly if not immediately thereafter the SUP is voted upon. Seldom does a public comment get a response, much less have an impact on the vote which generally appears to have been pre-determined well in advance of the meeting. I would suggest that many residents do not view that as adequate or timely “civic engagement”.

We need to start walking our talk.

Don Buch (174) | User | July 29, 2013 - 12:06 PM | Civic Engagement Handbook Comment Board