Thursday, October 9, 2008

SEWRPC Is Scared Of Its Own Shadow

As I noted yesterday, the every-four-year public review that is part of SEWRPC's federal authorization to help manage federal transportation spending in southeastern Wisconsin will take place in Milwaukee without a traditional public hearing.

What a pathetic state of affairs: the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is a public agency, 100% funded with public dollars, and because it was recently the subject of legal complaints, op-ed criticism and controversy is rewarded by its federal supervisors with a patty-cake public review process.

Does the agency have a glass jaw?

Four years ago, the hearing produced speaker after speaker who complained about the regional planning agency's history of ignoring low-income and minority residents and communities.

And late this summer, after a continuing series of failures to actively engage these same disadvantaged groups - - to say nothing of 50 years of Affirmative Action inaction that today has produced a 49-person professional staff with just three non-white employees - - two civil rights complaints were filed against SEWRPC with separate federal agencies that seek procedural and financial remedies.

So the federal transportation reviewers are cutting SEWRPC some slack with a quieter format - - a so-called "open house" - - where various tables and officials listeners will be stationed around a large room at which speakers can ask questions or leave comments.

No one gets to address the assembled crowd - - including SEWRPC officials - - and the reviewers together.

The desired effect: diffuse public sentiment, sap the room of its energy, and make it easier for the reviewers to reauthorize SEWRPC.

The format will help enable and accelerate SEWRPC's focus on exurban and suburban planning at the expense of dismissed urban issues and populations.

It's a foolish strategy and confirms for critics that SEWRPC's distance from a substantial percentage of its tax-paying constituents - - from agency work outcomes to hiring to committee appointments to its remote Pewaukee headquarters are deliberate.

The full reauthorization notice posted on the SEWRPC website is copied below:

Public Open House and Comment on Regional Transportation System Planning in Southeastern Wisconsin

All interested parties are invited to comment on the regional transportation system planning carried out by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, local transit agencies, and local units of government in the Milwaukee metropolitan area.

Under Federal law, the Commission serves as the metropolitan planning organization for the Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha urbanized areas, and the Wisconsin portion of the Round Lake Beach urbanized area. In coordination with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, local transit operators, and local units of government in the Southeastern Wisconsin area, the Commission is responsible for conducting a continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive transportation planning program in accordance with provisions of Federal Law. The U.S. Department of Transportation is conducting a planning certification review of the metropolitan transportation planning process conducted in Southeastern Wisconsin. This review is conducted every four years. Public comments received will be incorporated in the review and considered together with other USDOT oversight activities to determine if the transportation planning process meets applicable requirements of Federal transportation law.

Comments are sought pertaining to the transportation planning processes, public involvement procedures, evaluation of transportation air quality impacts, the regional transportation system plan, and transportation improvement program.

Public comments are invited and encouraged and may be submitted in writing or in person at a public open house to be held Wednesday, October 22, 2008, from 5:00 to 7:00 pm at:

Milwaukee County Downtown Transit Center
Harbor Lights Room
909 E. Michigan Street, Milwaukee
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

USDOT representatives will provide a brief introductory presentation at 5:00 pm. Representatives of the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, area transit operators, SEWRPC Commissioners and staff will be available to provide information and respond to questions regarding the transportation system planning process. Court reporters will be available to document any comments persons wish to have considered by the Federal review team. The open house will conclude at 7:00 p.m.

Persons with special needs are asked to contact the Commission offices by phone at 262-547-6721 at least three business days in advance of the hearing so that appropriate arrangements can be made to facilitate their participation.

Written comments may also be submitted no later than November 8, 2008, by mail, fax, or E-mail to:

Planning Certification Review
Federal Highway Administration
525 Junction Rd, Suite 8000
Madison, WI 53717
Fax: 608-829-7526

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