Sunday, November 2, 2008

SEWRPC Changes: Some Proposed, More Needed

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board backs some reforms of, and further debate about, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

This follows a 12-0 vote last week by the Milwaukee Common council that called for Milwaukee County to remove itself from SEWRPC if the state legislature did not rewrite the statutes creating SEWRPC to make the agency's board representatio by population - - right now, each of SEWRPC's seven-counties get three votes on the commission board, though Milwaukee County contains almost half the seven-county region's population and ponies up 36% of the agency's annual operating budget.

As I, among others, have argued for years, Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee are inequitably represented at SEWRPC, and over-taxed there for its operations, with the agency's suburban policy biases reflect that imbalance.

The Journal Sentinel editorial board does support Milwaukee County's withdrawal from SEWRPC. But it does agree that the City of Milwaukee should have a representative on the agency board, and that the budget and taxing imbalance needs addressing. The editorial is here.

A few observations:

The editorial is an indication that SEWRPC, now 50 years old, is finally getting some traditional media scrutiny that could lead to better and more fair work at the agency.

Whether there will be a concomitant change in the agency's daily management and board direction - - including hiring more minorities and City of Milwaukee residents in a commitment to real affirmative action and inclusion - - well, I'm not sure the paper's proposals go far enough to make that happen.

A seat for the City of Milwaukee?

That's a start, but does having one of 21 commissioners settle the fairness issue?

The city has more than 600,000 residents, and some SEWRPC counties like Walworth and Ozaukee have around 100,000 each.

It would shock me if the legislature met the City of Milwaukee Council resolution's request for proportional representation for the SEWRPC counties because that would turn 10 or eleven seats over to Milwaukee County and the other six counties would loose power and prestige.

And they would want their annual budget allocations slashed accordingly, just as Milwaukee now thinks its county contribution is too high.

The goal isn't to set up a political situation in which arguments about representation and taxation flow back and forth between Milwaukee County and the other six counties.

My suggestion, in print since a June op-ed on the matter, was that Milwaukee County separate itself from SEWRPC and reconstitute itself as a one-county planning operation just as exists in Dane County, where there is a one-county organization.

On which the City of Madison has many seats, but not a majority - - and the SEWRPC-like federal;y-designated transportation planning matters are handled on contract with the City of Madison's staffers.

Milwaukee County, the City of Milwaukee and any neighboring municipalities interested could join such an organization, making use of their existing public employees and facilities, and contract and partner with SEWRPC as needed.

SEWRPC has good technical staffers - - but is a separate SEWRPC bureaucracy with division heads, senior managers, a motor pool and an office building that cost more than #4 million to purchase from a private firm and take off the tax roles really needed to provide regional planning services in the greater Milwaukee area?

I'm happy to see the editorial. I think it's a positive sign. But I think there is a long way to go to make regional planning genuinely attuned to real people, citizen participation and urban issues in the existing seven-county region because it's not the highest priority in a grouping that includes Waukesha, Washington, Walworth, Kenosha, Racine, Ozaukee and Milwaukee Counties.

But it is a major priority in the region's most-populated county, with the state's largest city that is more than half-minority, and which has pressing housing, transportation and development needs side-tracked or ignored at SEWRPC.

SEWRPC does play a 'yes-or-no' role in the implementation of major federal transportation projects in the region, and by deciding which other issues to tackle with studies, SEWRPC creates and influences agendas and actions and outcomes whether or not its recommendations are adopted at the local level.

Inaction is a form of action.

And all actions are choices that rule out other actions and choices at SEWRPC because resources and staff are finite.

Wholesale reformation of planning and execution is what is needed in the region - - and that begins with redefining what are the useful boundaries for public planning purposes, and then what issues those regional planners can and will tackle.


Anonymous said...

You assume that anyone cares what the J-S thinks or wants.
If I may be so bold you are right that SEWRPC needs to be changed (even if we might disagree on what transportation focus should be) but with circulation numbers failing and an editorial board made up of well wing nuts, a far great impact on getting the charges you want to see will come easier with a full WEB 2.0 process I.E. this blog a podcast and video broadcast.
Few read the J-S anymore you could gain a great deal of support by using WEB 2.0 to educate the public

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments and presistence on this issue, Jim. SEWRPC has a long term history of irrational planning and actions that have resulted in unnecessary sprawl, lack of transit alternatives and environmental degradation that we are all paying for now. Look at the water problems of Waukesha, for instance. This problem has been known and anticipated for years. Where was SEWRPC?

James Rowen said...

I agree, Leonard, that SEWRPC's passivity on water and other issues, while endorsing road-building, has led to sprawl at the expense of good planning.

And to Colt: yes, the paper is declining, but it's impact is still strong. And will be so long as it is the state's largest paper.

Anonymous said...

Simple test find 10 readers that you do not know ask 1) How many read the editorial page 2) How many act on the information.

AS you can tell I am not a very good writer my larger point was to say you yourself could have a much larger impact by using the full range of Web 2.0

James Rowen said...

A blog is a start, no?

Anonymous said...

Tis a start just think what you could do with oh a Podcast!

James Rowen said...

Hey, this is a low-budget homegrown operation, my friend. One thing at a time.