Resident addresses Comprehensive Plan
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 9, 2004
I have very closely followed the discussion by City Council and staff concerning the 2025 Comprehensive Plan and would like to submit the following comments to your paper as a letter to the editor:
The discussion at the 2 June, 2004 City Council work-session was very instructive, especially the briefing by Mr. Mills (the director of Planning), concerning the recent public listening sessions held by city staff about future city growth and the 2025 Comprehensive Plan. Mr. Mills briefed the City Council in quite significant detail, about what the citizens wanted and what they did not want for our city’s future. The primary reason that this was of note; was the fact that there has been so few citizens that have attended and participated in these sessions, yet it was represented as though some water-shed insight had been gleaned by this process.
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The entire presentation was a &uot;UDO love feast,&uot; with a supposed finding of wide acclaim of present city policies. All was well and the citizens were demanding more wonderful UDO policies in the fine city of Suffolk.
I was becoming very concerned until Councilwoman Linda Johnson stood up and made the telling comments that there had only been a handful of citizens, who have even attended the sessions, so how could staff make the statements that they did? Her comments were right on point and very dearly needed, since without them her colleagues were happy to just lap it up and plan further edicts to &uot;control growth&uot; under the claim of citizen involvement. Our City Manager Steve Herbert, the &uot;UDO and Hotel Champion,&uot; had to admit at that point that data was just preliminary and given the fact that very few people had even attended, such findings should be further refined. It first appeared that further involvement by our completely happy residents was not necessary or wanted. The desired input was garnered and we were ready to &uot;march forth to slay the dragon of growth.&uot; I would state that the time worn adage applies to this process that: &uot;Garbage in equals garbage out&uot; in this situation. For city staff to draw such sweeping statements as I heard portends an agenda to be very concerned and wary of, to say the least.
I strongly agree with Councilwoman Johnson, that to draw such sweeping conclusions as indicated by Mr. Mills, our UDO warrior; that our citizens love the UDO and want even more; is both ridiculous as well as very discouraging in our republic. With such low citizen turnout for comment, one has to ask how such claims could be penned and put forth? For the staff to draw the conclusions as indicated, with so few data points, one has to ask if they already had a ready answer for us. If reasonable and valid assessment is truly desired, by valid comments, there must be more active participation garnered from our apathetic citizenry to extrapolate valid conclusions. To this end I would suggest the following and widely recognized methods, to get fuller participation from the citizens to determine their true thoughts and comments:
Create a Web site or web-link to the &uot;City Web-Site&uot; where citizens can comment in a more convenient method and more people could participate in the process.
Mail or place a comment sheet in the newspapers asking for comments of the citizens about what the city has done to and for them.
Place a suggestion box at the libraries and city hall for these comments.
Ask for input on the back of the City Council Agenda at council meetings and in city utility billings that can be conveniently made and submitted.
Hold a public comment period at the City Council meetings to encourage dialog.
Include a &uot;citizen group&uot; to review and validate all staff findings or statements to counter &uot;group UDO think&uot;, that seems to run rampant in the city staff.
Ask probing questions like: &uot;What would you change in the City’s growth patterns? What would you change in council priorities for development? What are your priorities in the city as it grows in the future? What impact has the UDO had on your life and do you have a comment about how it could be improved?
What are your personal growth priorities for Suffolk&uot;…?
Place comment sheets at local meeting places/areas, as we do with the City Budget.
I can assure one and all that if you want comments from our citizens you only have to ask. There are many opinions held and there is no lack of those who are willing, when given the proper opportunity to give the city staff an earful. The real problem seems to be; that the staff already has contrived its own answers and does not want any pesky method to interfere with what they think they know. If there is a genuine desire to involve and provoke the comments of the citizens in the 2025 Comprehensive Review Plans, the city staff will have to go a little further than just holding a few obscure meetings. To gauge true public opinion in our busy lives, you have to go where the people are. With three meetings held and fewer than 50 partisans in attendance in all three of these public listening sessions combined, Mr. Mills does not hold valid data points. Until there has been some real effort by Staff to survey the citizens of Suffolk in a form convenient for them, the data is really only as good as reading chicken bones.
I would ask that our City Council demand of our City Manager that his staff get out and talk to the citizens about these issues, prior to making sweeping claims of knowledge of what we want. If you have a chance to see the 2 June 2004 city council work-session, please do and draw your own conclusions.
I would also encourage my fellow citizens to get involved and to engage in the issues. If you do not, Mr. Herbert and Mr. Mills will inform our city council that: &uot;we really like the UDO and want more of it.&uot;
Roger A. Leonard
A concerned citizen of Suffolk