How often in Piedmont do you hear the phrase, “I didn’t know about that ?”
It seems to be a common concern in letters and public forums. Certain Piedmonters are in the know while others are uninformed. Residents learn about activities that have been going on behind the scenes with only three days notice before a Council action – or even after a decision has been made.
Recent examples include the creation of the Arts Center – a great idea, but a plan birthed in private with City staff and first presented to the City Council with only 72 hours notice and no prior public discussions. Or the nearly two-month, delayed disclosure of two private agreements* entered into by the City and
a private group, PRFO (Piedmont Recreation Facilities Organization). Previous examples include private undergrounding districts involving only a few residents and City staff in the formative stages – without noticed hearings early on with all affected residents .
With the recent, well-intentioned calls for more civil discourse, missing is a call for more discussion and actual public discourse. And missing is the call for involving all Piedmonters early and often. Instead of public workshops, town hall meetings, and noticed hearings, surveys with limited responses or intimate invitation-only meetings in private homes are often cited as “public input”.
This is the age of communications. In addition to more public discussions, KCOM, informative websites, and email notifications can provide better, more timely information and give residents a chance to offer their input. A call for civil discourse should include a call for greater use of all available resources to allow full exploration of pros and cons on controversial City issues and generate the most informed, objective decisions possible by City officials.
Civil discourse is a worthy goal, and it is achievable when all interested stakeholders are actively involved in public project discussions from inception, rather than presented with fait accomplis.
*An agreement dated August 12, 2011 for indemnity and reimbursement and an agreement dated July 25, 2011 for the review and preparation of environmental documents