November 20, 2004
Given the amount of public discord regarding the proposed LVEC there must be a better way for a community to work its way through a very complex process involving so many issues.
As stated at the recent Steering Committee it is comforting to know that citizen involvement in the LVEC process is viewed to be important. It is essential otherwise the project that might have brought out the best in community collaboration will instead bring out the worst. A project that potentially could be a source of community pride might instead be remembered for the community rancor that it generated.
There are degrees of citizen involvement. At a minimum, citizen involvement can be used as a tool to persuade the public to accept a proposal. This was basically the Mayor's Task Force approach. Some significant ideas that turned out to be recommendations of the Task Force were not brought forward for discussion with the public before the Task Force reported. By the time the Task Force reported there was too much commitment for discussion. The Task Force failed to lead the community in searching for a greater understanding of the larger picture and a weighing of the options.
A somewhat better level of citizen participation involves the request to the public to give feedback on a proposal. The subsequent public meetings held by the City were characterized more as promotional and defensive exercises than being responsive to citizen's concerns. At one of the Review Committee meetings the Mayor stated that he didn't care where the LVEC was built as long as it was built. Generally the Review Committee did not review the report of the Task Force. It rubber stamped it.
Citizen involvement approaches its potential when it involves formal dialogue with the public on initially established mutually accepted objectives. In this model, citizen involvement is integrated into the total project planning process and not added on at the end. Good citizen involvement requires early identification of the interested parties in the LVEC process and agreement as to their role.
A citizen participation plan is needed. If the Steering Committee is going to take a view of similar LVECs then representatives of the interested parties should also take a view. If a business plan and feasibility and other studies are to be undertaken then citizens should be involved in setting their scope and methodology. Citizens need to know that studies properly reflect their interests and be assured that the studies are even handed. Otherwise how can citizens be informed and give their best advice?
The advantage of citizen involvement integrated into the process is that community advice can be taken into account in a timely manner and is more like to be considered to be a contribution to the process. Legitimate unforeseen latent values that proposals touch that come into play late in the process are more likely to result in the citizen reaction as being obstructive or destructive. Integrated citizen participation is critical to the subsequent acceptance of the whole process.
An immediate easy first step to recognizing the legitimate role of citizens would be to move the meetings of the Steering Committee to a room where there was more suitable accommodation for citizens who want to engage in the process. Citizens should not have to sit on stairs and at the far end of the room and should not have to strain to hear the discussion.
Here are two web sites that relate to citizen participation:
http://www.iap2.org/corevalues/index.shtml. See the item entitled Core Values for the Practice of Public Participation
http://iap2.org/practitionertools/index.shtml See the item Increasing Level of Public Impact.
Last updated 20.11.2004