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Michael Hobbs (user 388) - Comments by Date

“What’s Next Alexandria” ’s draft Handbook for Civic Engagement is largely unobjectionable. Individuals might differ on some of the details, but the broad “Principles of Engagement” at the core of the undertaking seem sound and appropriate, and are accompanied by a broadly comprehensive “tool box” for implementation.

Standing alone, however, the Handbook and its implementation run the risk of disappointing and discouraging rather than fulfilling public expectations, and thus failing to achieve the eloquently stated goal of “improv[ing] the quality of Alexandria’s public participation process so that members of the community are actively, constructively, and meaningfully involved in the public decisions that affect their lives.”

The principal flaw is not in what the draft Handbook contains—but in what it does not. The principal lack is a clear, concise and credible statement by the City Council itself that its commitment to this objective and these principles is not superficial but substantial, not cursory but compelling, not peripheral but central to its determination as to how the City of Alexandria will conduct its public policy decision-making processes.

Council’s having commissioned the “What’s Next Alexandria” project, and attendance by individual members of the Council and of City management at several of the community meetings, were welcome, but are not alone a sufficient demonstration of the depth of its commitment and the importance it attaches to the goal.

When it adopts the Handbook, the Council should demonstrate that commitment by predicating it on the adoption of a Statement of Policy on Public Participation in the City of Alexandria’s Public Policy Decision-Making Process—a policy which Council is willing to measure the City’s governmental processes against; for the implementation of which Council is willing to be held primarily and ultimately accountable; and which Council is prepared to apply fully to its own proceedings, as a hallmark for the practice of all other governmental bodies and agencies in the City.

A suggested statement of principle proposed more than four years ago by the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations (with some additional language to reflect some of the key conclusions and recommendations of the current “What’s Next Alexandria” project) could be a useful starting point for the drafting of such a Statement of Policy by the Council:

It shall be the policy of the City of Alexandria that significant public policies will be adopted, and significant governmental action taken, only after (1) the nature of the proposed policy or action has been fully disclosed, (2) the public has had full and fair opportunity to learn of the proposed action, and to comment on it, and (3) the decision-making body has had sufficient opportunity fairly to consider and reflect on such comment, before acting. It is the purpose of this policy to ensure that public participation in all of the City’s public policy processes shall be welcomed and encouraged to the optimum degree, so that all citizens of Alexandria, regardless of their station or their circumstances, shall have no less access to and opportunity for participation in those processes, and their views afforded no less full, fair and respectful consideration, than is afforded to any public or private parties at interest.

Michael Hobbs (388) | User | October 11, 2013 - 6:00 PM | Civic Engagement Handbook Comment Board