Wednesday, October 15, 2008

SEWRPC Task Force, Director, Clash Over Independent Analyses: Task Force Prevails

Talk about citizen empowerment and an effort to reform the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission from within:

By a vote of 8-1, the agency's relatively new Environmental Justice Task Force is recommending that "every SEWRPC plan, i.e. housing, land use, water, etc. will incorporate socio-economic impact analyses by a reputable, independent source other than SEWRPC before the plan may be adopted..."

The task force met in Waukesha on Tuesday afternoon.

The key word there is "independent," as the task force is saying that for SEWRPC's plans to be more credible, new professional voices from the outside have to be added to all the agency's studies.

The 8-1 vote came despite pointed remarks in opposition by outgoing Executive Director Philip Evenson. He said took the resolution "personally" and was "offended" by it.

The task force said it respectfully disagreed; the resolution is a recommendation only, and could be ignored or dismissed by the full Commission.

But doing so would send a signal to the task force, created in 2007 to satisfy federal reviewers who found the agency's outreach to minority and low-income communities lacking, that the task force was window-dressing.

SEWRPC has already dissed the task force once when the agency did not heed a request to include the task force in SEWRPC's closed process to name Deputy Director Ken Yunker to replace Evenson as Executive Director in January.

How self-defeating would that be, since the agency is currently the subject of two civil rights complaints by organizations alleging discrimination by the agency against the very people the task force represents?

SEWRPC would be smart to work with, not against its own task force, and to incorporate the perspectives sought by the task force into agency studies.

SEWRPC is nearly 50 years old, and has a decision-making structure in which a small number of people wield great power over its multi-million dollar budget and staff of about 75 people.

In its nearly 50-year history, it has had but two Executive Directors, and the first, Kurt Bauer, is still a three-quarter time consultant as Executive Director emeritus.

Other consultants do regular business with the agency: the current lead consultant on the agency's three-year water supply study, Ruekert-Mielke Inc., also sold SEWRPC its headquarters building in Pewaukee, and Bauer had a consultancy at R-M after his departure as full-time SEWRPDc Executive Director, too.

The task force is not a full-fledged SEWRPC technical advisory committee of the sort that often advises it on a detailed planning issue, like transportation, water, land use, telecommunications or housing - - the latter an item not reported on in a full study by SEWRPC for 33 years, though a study may be forthcoming by the end of the year, Evenson said Tuesday.

Those committees are heavily-populated by local elected officials, agency heads, engineers, planners and other technicians; the task force is heavier on community activists with grassroots' experiences who are determined to speak for groups that have not had meaningful representation in SEWRPC processes.

That is the entire point of the task force, and it appears after Tuesday's session that it wants to be heard within SEWRPC.

We'll see if Evenson, Yunker & et al. are listening.

1 comment:

jpk said...

It's encouraging to see the task force flexing its muscle and these small victories.

But major org change is a difficult thing to accomplish -- especially when an org's governance and leadership don't want change.

In other words, SEWRPC won't change from within. For Milw to get sensible planning, it's gotta defect.

I'm more encouraged by Ald Murphy's recent comments about revisiting Milwaukee's withdrawal from SEWRPC.

Have either the Council and Board introduced files to study/advance withdrawal? I'm getting impatient -- let's get the ball rolling on this!