Information, Misinformation, Statesmen and Politicians

How ironic to read that the 5th Ward councilperson recently objected to pausing the design phase for a new sewer line  on the grounds that project costs would continue increasing if action were not taken soon. Ironic because the same councilperson actively supported  “pausing” construction on the new electric substation and transmission line earlier this year.  (See council minutes from January 19 ). Unlike the sewer line, whose projected costs have rapidly increased, the transmission line project was, at the time it was paused, on time and within the allocated money for the transmission and substation budget that had been presented to voters. The concern of project costs increasing was not in evidence when the council voted to pause the transmission line, and has not been much in evidence since as the project remains stalled.

Those participating in our “Community Commons” dialogue on “citizen centered planning” have been asking what citizens can do to help our leaders make better and more predictable decisions about our public infrastructure. Part of this discussion has focused on the difference between leaders who are “public servants” or “statesmen”, and those who are merely politicians. Differences identified included:

  • focusing on the common good v. catering to special interests or the loudest voices,

  • being a good steward of our public resources v. following the political winds,

  • being transparent v. “trying to control the message”, and

  • staying true to a vision and core values v. changing with the polls.

The council’s actions with regard to the transmission line have been a frequent reference point during these discussions.  The decision to pause the transmission line (which was first approved in 2013) was made as public meetings were being held on pole placement and design, in response to public opposition engendered by those meetings, and without input from the citizen led Water & Light Advisory board. Shortly thereafter, the 4th Ward council person suggested that maybe conservation could solve the the transmission issues (Note: as explained here, it won’t). In May 2016 the newly elected mayor supported the ongoing delay and suggested that a new “Option E”, might be possible based on his conversations with another electric provider.  Neither has updated the public on the feasibility of these alternatives, nor provided a timeline for their evaluation, nor provided estimates of the  costs associated with ongoing delay.  A letter sent by the Water & Light advisory board to the City Council on September 18, 2016 providing an analysis of the public concerns  and reaffirming the advisory board’s support for Option A, appears to have been largely ignored.

The recently released 2016 “Citizen Handbook” – which is offered as the City’s “performance report” to its citizens, stated (p. 8) “Wherever you live, water, sewer, electric and stormwater systems should be safe and reliable.” What are we doing to ensure that that goal is met?  Who is responsible for the costs and risks of delay when a project is “paused”?  What information should be gathered before an “alternative” is put on the table for consideration? What information should be shared with the public and when? What circumstances justify reopening decisions already made?

On p. 31, of the Citizen Handbook this report is given with respect to our electric service:

“The tricky part of getting the electricity exactly when and where it is needed is very complicated. Over the years, Columbia electric ratepayers have invested in the infrastructure to build a system that has a reliability rating of 99.9876 percent. Although the electric load growth has dropped from a 2 percent increase to a 1.25 percent growth rate, it was identified in 2007 that an additional substation and transmission lines were needed in southern Columbia. After many public meetings, gathering feedback from residents in the area and the meetings with the City Council, a route for the new transmission lines was decided at a public hearing in 2013. Voters approved the funding for the project through using bond funds in 2015. In 2016, the City Council decided to reconsider the route. At the time this article was published, a solution to electric reliability and overloading issue had not been decided by the City Council.”

How do we want our key infrastructure decisions to be made? What would best serve the common good? What can we do to ensure good stewardship of our public resources?

Join us tomorrow at the Community Commons and share your ideas.

Community Commons
Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

Join Us November 15!

Our next Community Commons is next Tuesday, November 15 from 7 to 9 pm. We hope you can join us.

Post-election many citizens are asking, how can we find common ground and work together?  The Columbia Tribune’s “Community Commons” aims to help you do just that.

Discussion in September  highlighted several issues related to the themes in our community dialogue guide “Are We An Us?”  Looking at the themes of Inequity and Building Bridges, the October session  explored a wide range of topics, including  the need for more affordable housing, housing for the homeless, creating more economically diverse neighborhoods, bringing neighborhoods together through smaller celebrations and events, and providing more places where people can come together for dialogue.

Those interested in Citizen Centered Planning further explored the difference between “politicians and statesman”, and discussed the possibility of creating an easily accessible public dashboard that shows progress toward public infrastructure projects approved by voters.

Interested in exploring how we can bridge divides, address inequities, and put citizens at the center?  Join us on November 15!

During this session we will also be introducing a new dialogue format called the “Conversation Cafe” that you can easily transfer to your conversations with family, friends, and neighbors.  By talking and working together, we can make a difference

Join us!

Community Commons
Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.

Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

Information and Misinformation – 2

Many comments made by those opposed to the transmission line route known as Option A centered on the appearance of poles – height, type of materials, diameter of base etc.

Talking with Connie Kaprowicz from Water & Light, we learned that these questions hadn’t been fully settled when progress on Option A was stopped by the City Council. To the contrary, questions of location and appearance were what public comment was being sought on.

We asked Connie the following questions:

1C1C: What decisions had been made about poles and pole placement when the Council put Option A on hold?

W & L: When the project was stopped by the City Council, we were at the 30% design phase of implementing Option A. This is the stage where we decide where the poles could be located and what type of poles should be used. We held an open house for the purpose of getting public input on proposed locations and pole types. We never got to the point that these details could be finalized.This quickly turned into an issue of whether we should build lines along Option A at all rather than the evaluation of proposed locations and pole types.

1C1C:  What are the different options for pole types?

W & L: There are a lot of different pole options as shown in these slides which were shown to the City Council on January 19, 2016 (slides 51-66 from Council presentation). Note that with the steel structures, the wires are higher above ground, guy wires are not required, and fewer poles are required along a route. If wood poles were used instead of steel poles, it would result in an increase of 55.9% in the number of poles compared to steel poles).

Here is a summary of key differences between construction with steel and wood poles:

Steel vs. Wood Overview

Steel Pole Construction

  • Engineered material; consistent, controlled properties
  • Reduced safety factors required
  • No height or span limitations
  • Self supporting angles and dead-ends
  • More flexibility during design
  • More flexibility during construction
Wood Pole Construction

  • Natural material; varying properties
  • Height & span limitations – more poles required
  • Angles & dead ends are not self-supporting; require down guys – more intrusion on properties/easements
  • Limited design adjustments during construction

 

You Can Make A Difference

Join us for another Community Commons on October 18 from 7-9 pm at the Tribune offices (enter on Walnut St. between 4th and Providence).

Those who attended the first Community Commons held on September 20, divided into two separate groups for two separate, wide ranging conversations.

In the first, the focus was on building bridges and addressing inequities. Recognizing that inequity/inequality is very difficult to change, the group asked “what could we offer now so our children and grandchildren especially aren’t sitting around talking about this?” Ideas included special zoning to facilitate places where people could gather and interact, more press about activities in the African- American community that is informed by leaders in that community (it was noted those leaders should be identified by the black community and not denominated by those outside), more marketing and diversification of minority owned businesses, and the need for minority communities to also create community among their own members so as to better connect and celebrate accomplishments. The need for more dialogue among all citizens was also emphasized. The group also discussed various types of events that would help break down “taboo” things and locations. Come and contribute your ideas on October 18!

Another group focused on citizen-centered planning. Much of the discussion in this group focused on the stalled transmission line, which was brought up as an example of “broken governance.” Questions asked here included, “Who does council talk to? Just the loudest self interested voices? Experts available to them? Staff?” “How can we better involve citizens at the appropriate best time, not at the last minute?”, “How can we elevate issues to a focus on the public good?” and “How could those harmed or experiencing a monetary loss as a result of a decision made for the common good be compensated?” During the discussions a  distinction was made between “politicians” who are easily swayed by public dissent and “statesmen” who work to understand, translate, and resolve complex issues and move the community forward. Characteristics of “statesmen” that were identified included respecting process, respecting staff, focusing on the common good, and being honest about the hard issues. Participants agreed that citizens needed to be more involved on an ongoing basis as these issues unfolded and that both citizens and leaders needed to be accountable for their actions. What constitutes accountability and how do we achieve it?   Join us on October 18 as we explore this issue further.

We look forward to seeing you on October 18.

Improving Our Infrastructure – You Can Help!

We know there is a lot of interest in improving our infrastructure and how we as a community plan for the future.  Readers and dialogue participants alike have shared thoughts for how we might improve.  Consider the following comments posted by a reader to articles on the current transmission line controversy.

Something that might have helped prevented the emergence (or resurgence) or organized opposition to Option A was for the city to continue to have ongoing public forums and meetings that would have provided citizens opportunities to hear updates or to voice concerns. Too often what happens is the city is all about having public meetings and getting citizen input when projects are proposed (as they are legally required to do) but then once that process is overwith and projects are approved, all communication ceases. And then one morning, a resident wakes up to find that the city is about to plant a giant electric pole in his yard or clearcut all his trees. Nobody, but nobody likes these kinds of surprises. (Posted by “Ruckus” Jan. 31, 2016)

A different approach is needed then just holding interested party meetings or Ward Checkins. Perhaps take a cue from the Sewer Dept in which affected individuals along the routes are kept updated by periodic mailings with detailed information of project plans and progress, and provide the name of an actual contact person within W and L who is actually involved in the project who is a contact point for residents who have concerns or questions. This approach has seemed to work well for the Sewer Utility on the Private Common Collector Elimination projects. The engineer responsible for any given project is the contact point for residents/neighborhood associations. (Posted by “Ruckus” Feb. 1, 2016)

Do you have ideas of your own to share about how we might improve the way our community approaches its infrastructure issues? Join us September 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the offices of the Tribune (101 N. 4th St., enter on Walnut Street) for another citizen-led dialogue.

Share what’s on your mind and listen to others.

Real people, real dialogue.  Join in a conversation that matters.

We hope to see you tomorrow, September 20 at 7 pm.

The Transmission Line: Many Questions

Since the online forum on August 23rd, tax abatements have been approved for an upgrade of the Dana Light Axle Products facility, and the mayor has announced a new medical tourism initiative. Yet the issue of how we are going to meet the electric service needs of new industry or our energy intensive medical facilities remains stalled.

Our August 23 forum focused on “citizen-centered planning,” using as a case study the City Council’s decision to “pause” construction on the new transmission line while researching potential alternatives to the previously approved route (“Option A”). Citizens joining the August 23 forum raised questions about the costs of delay, the costs of potential alternatives, the costs incurred to date, the timeline for decision, and whether and how the public will be engaged in any future discussion of what is to be done.

As citizens in our past forums have observed, “People want to be informed.”  The council’s lack of discussion on a timeline, on the consequences of delay, or on the criteria for future decisions on this key issue, is not providing citizens with information they want and need.

Citizens at past forums made the following observations about how the city council approaches the issues of growth:

  • “they avoid the hard issues until those must be addressed;”
  • “They spend most of their time cleaning up messes rather than presenting clearly defined programs aimed at achieving goals;”
  • “They are always working in hindsight mode.”

We can’t meet our energy needs by talking about what “might work” or by simply hoping the whole uncomfortable issue goes away. If we are going to announce new initiatives intended to promote our economy, we should be discussing at the same time how the necessary infrastructure will be put in place to support both current and future needs. This applies not only to electric infrastructure but to sewers, water, and roads as well.

As Hank Waters said in a recent editorial:

After all these months of delay, the city council needs to get off the dime. It will never be rid of conflicting opinion on this issue. If the council has enough reason to abandon Option A, it should have the final stages of a lucid discussion and make another decision, but it will have to overcome the obvious arguments in favor of proceeding as planned.

In future posts we will further explore the issues of costs and process raised on August 23.

Join Us August 23

This Tuesday, August 23rd from 5 to 6 p.m. we will host our next on-line Trib Talks forum using the Cover It Live platform. We will focus on “citizen centered planning” using the current transmission line controversy as a case study.

You can review last Sunday’s article by Caitlin Campbell  for an up to date summary of the transmission line issue, and review past coverage or the  information page on the city website for even more information.

To participate in the forum, simply visit www.columbiatribune.com at 5 p.m. (or shortly before) Tuesday, click on the link and join in.

Can’t join us? Review the transcript on our archive page after the forum, or host your own dialogue and report back in!

Dialogue Opportunity in the First Ward

There will be a Central Neighborhood Meeting and BBQ – Thursday, June 23 at St. Luke Church, 204 E. Ash Street.

BBQ will be provided by Big Daddy’s BBQ, between 4 and 6 p.m. at St. Luke. The meal is first come, first served to the first 200 people.

The Central Neighborhood Meeting will follow from 6 to 8 pm.   The meeting is open to all residents in the central neighborhood.

During the meeting residents will discuss economic development and job creation, law and criminal justice, youth leadership and development, health and human services as well as housing and infrastructure.  Leading the discussions is Carl Kenney. Carl is a Columbia native with deep experience in working with neighborhoods to facilitate discussions to bring about meaningful change.  If you are a central neighborhood resident please attend!  This kind of dialogue can  help to ensure that your neighborhood has a voice that is heard!

 

Interested in Development? Town Hall Tomorrow!

Yesterday the City sent out a press release announcing there would be a town hall meeting on “the development code update project” tomorrow, Saturday morning, April 30 from 8 am to noon, at City Hall, 701 East Broadway, Conference rooms 1A-C.

Topics will include:

  • Proposed new parking requirements,
  • Development, redevelopment and sufficiency of services and
  • Form-based controls downtown.

The announced purpose for this event is to “assist interested persons with understanding the draft development code in preparation for the public hearing process which begins in May”.  While we commend the City for hosting this event we would also like your thoughts on how the process for informing and inviting the public on these key issues might be improved.

 

 

Join Us Thursday Feb 11 at 7 pm

Join us tomorrow evening for the Trib Talks forum “Are We An Us?’  The world-cafe style forum will be held at the ARC, 1701W. Ash St., at 7 pm. We will dig deeper into themes that emerged during our last session and our on-line forums.

These were citizen centered planning, addressing inequities, and building bridges.

What is citizen-centered planning?  One thing it involves is leadership that accurately informs citizens.  During our last forum citizens expressed a desire for the Trib to make it easier for them to track coverage on complex issues, like the current transmission line controversy.  The Trib has responded with a new archive on infrastructure issues.  Come and share additional thoughts on how our planning for growth might be improved.

There are many groups in Columbia working to address needs for food and shelter.  Affordable housing, and outreach through efforts like Project Homeless Connect have been in the news. Bring your ideas on what more might be done.

And over the last month uniting the diverse elements of our community has been a theme of many events – from the the city-sponsored diversity breakfast, to a unity concert, to a multicultural cooking class sponsored by the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. Come and share your thoughts on how we might bridge our gaps.

Join us at the ARC and here on-line!