Sunday, March 23, 2008

Chicago-Area Planning Agency Much More Open Than SEWRPC

The seven northern Illinois counties recently recreated, updated and improved their regional planning commission and the differences with SEWRPC's 1950's model couldn't be more striking.

Two planning commissions. Both made up of seven counties.

One takes its public planning role seriously.

The other, ours, behaves like a private consulting firm.

Compare their websites.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) site is interactive and detailed.

SEWRPC (the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission) - - boring site here - - likes to operate in the shadows, where technocrats meet and have little use for public participation.

The SEWRPC website - - its window to the world - - is a deliberate turnoff.

CMAP's, by contrast, is a trove of data, publications, video, links, and graphics that draw you in and encourage you to surf around, learn something and get in touch with employees for more information.

For goodness sake, it even carries the Executive Director's blog.

With comments!

A couple of years ago, I suggested to SEWRPC's now newly-designated Executive Director, Ken Yunker, that SEWRPC record its committee meetings and put them on the internet through streaming video.

Like so many suggestions to SEWRPC from the public, it went to planners' purgatory through "react and dismiss." (A recent example, the dismissal of all the comments received unanimously opposing the interchange for the Pabst Farm mall.)

And a blog by the SEWRPC Executive Director?

As the kids say these days by text, LOL.

And remember, it was Yunker who laid in the weeds at a meeting of the agency's water advisory committee, waited for a citizen member to finish a scheduled PowerPoint presentation that suggested another public policy group could have input into regional water policy-making - - then delivered a tounge-lashing before the committee that lead to the member's resignation.

History, here.

One more thing:

While SEWRPC filled its executive director position using closed doors and stealth, CMAP keep the public informed.

Including posting information about the hiring and candidate search process, mentioned on several occasions easily found in the CMAP site search function.

Example here.

The questions to SEWRPC:

Is this so hard?

Is it the money? Then stop buying your top staffers and consultants large American sedans and put that saving into technology for the public.

Stop doing things like forking over $73,000 to a consulting firm for the as-yet unimplemented suggestion to change your lengthy name from Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to The RPC of Southeastern Wisconsin.

True story. Thank you Gretchen Schuldt, July 16, 2007.

What do you have to hide besides throwing money away?

You still don't even post your commissioners' biographies. Some of them have been on the Commission for years, decades. Who are they really, and what do they do?

And to the county officials who keep including SEWRPC operating dollars in their annual budgets and shoveling them out to the agency's inaccessible offices in Pewaukee.

What are you getting out of this arrangement that is good for your taxpayers?


Jim Bouman said...

I like the image you present of SEWRPC as Private Consulting Firm. But that doesn't catch the entire ambience--the exclusive, in-crowd, country-clubber style.

And the way they "You people..." anyone who thinks they are remote and arrogant and self-dealing.

Green Knight said...

Another reason why I love Chicago.

Milwaukee would do itself a favor by taking more of its ideas and implementing them here.

James Rowen said...

The regional planning commission is an entity unto itself.