Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pat On The Back, The Mildest of Taps On The Wrist

The Journal Sentinel offers SEWRPC praise along with tepid chastisement for delaying a regional housing plan - - for 33 years.

The editorial did not mention that SEWRPC has refused to show the housing study draft to its own Environmental Justice Task Force, a body created by the agency to help serve and reconnect with low-income and minority communities.

SEWRPC was forced by federal evaluators to create the task force after SEWRPC's 2004 quadrennial public hearing on such matters produced a blizzard of complaints.

Coincidentally, those evaluators are in town today for the 2008 review (5-7 p.m., 2nd floor, Downtown Transit Center, 909 E. Michigan St.), but the open microphone this time has been replaced with a separate quiet room where a person with a gripe about SEWRPC or regional transportation spending can deliver it behind closed doors to a stenographer.

It's one thing to define yourself as a passive agency. It's another to abscond from a public forum that takes place every four years. What kind of message does that deliver?

Does SEWRPC even care?

Hardly. It is just trying to get through the day with as little democratic process and criticism as possible.

The newspaper should have cared more.

It should have slapped SEWRPC and the feds for diminishing the value of an evaluation of an agency that gets 100% of its funding from the public, and which could be playing a stronger role in the success of a seven-county region.

This amazing episode in which both the feds and SEWRPC itself have cooperated in shielding the regional planning agency from public input - - just as the economy is entering an historic plunge - - is all the evidence that Milwaukee Common Council members and Milwaukee County Board supervisors would ever need to justify pulling out of the commission and investing Milwaukee County's $800,000+ annual gift to SEWRPC in a more open, productive and publicly-spirited planning body or arrangement in the Milwaukee area.

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