Monday, March 23, 2009

SEWRPC Faulted On Stimulus Decision-Making

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin continues to monitor transportation decision-making in the region, as it took the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to task last Friday for excluding the public, low-income and minority communities from meaningful participation in the allocation of millions in federal stimulus spending.

When will those folks at SEWRPC get it?

The ACLU last year filed two formal federal complaints - - still pending - - on behalf of several organizations about SEWRPC hiring procedures, advisory committee membership, and other actions the ACLU said discriminated against low-income and minority communities.

It also filed a separate complaint against the Wisconsin Department of Transportation on behalf of several organizations and individuals, raising, again, similar challenges to the State of Wisconsin's SEWRPC-blessed commitment of $1.9 billion to rebuild and widen I-94 from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line.

That eight-year plan is but a portion of a larger $6.5 billion regional freeway expansion and reconstruction scheme written for the state by SEWRPC planners that has not one dime for transit in its budget.

Some history on these complaints is here.

SEWRPC is a seven-county, 100% publicly-funded agency headquartered in the Western Waukesha City of Pewaukee. The agency has few minority professional staffers and no representatives from the City of Milwaukee on its 21-member governing board.

Without a voice or vote on the SEWRPC board - - though counties smaller than the city have three votes each - - it is up to organizations like the ACLU to constantly remind SEWRPC and the public that opaque planning and taxation without representation produces results that are exclusionary, dismissive of the public niterest, and technically deficient.

Recent comments forwarded to SEWRPC by the ACLU on behalf of legal and environmental organizations about the shortcomings of SEWRPC pro-suburban, sprawl-inducing waer supply recommendations, are here.

Here is the text of the letter about the SEWRPC stimulus meeting and decision-making precess:

March 20, 2009

Kenneth Yunker, Director
Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission
P.O. Box 1607
Waukesha, WI 53187-1607


RE: Comments on Stimulus Program Projects

Dear Mr. Yunker:

I just learned this morning that SEWRPC is today holding a meeting to address the issue of what programs should be funded with stimulus dollars. I was unable to attend the meeting on such short notice. Instead, I am submitting written comments.

The process for discussing the allocation of stimulus dollars, as well as, potentially, the allocation itself, appears to violate civil rights requirements. Please note that civil rights compliance requirements do apply to the stimulus program, including to the distribution of stimulus funds.

I strongly object to SEWRPC’s failure to comply with its public involvement program in general, to involve its Environmental Justice Task Force (which is meeting next week) in the process, or to ensure that diverse communities are involved in the decision making process. The notice of the meeting was not even posted on SEWRPC’s website until less than 24 hours before today’s meeting, no notice was sent to interested parties, and there is no public comment period at the meeting (or at any other stated time).

The SEWRPC Staff Memorandum entitled “Public Participation Plan for Transportation Planning Conducted by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission” explicitly states the following steps will be taken in transportation planning, none of which occurred here:

• Timely notification of, and provision of access to, Commission regional transportation planning and programming activities will be achieved to encourage early and continuous public participation.

• The purposes of the [Environmental Justice] Task Force include to further facilitate the involvement of low-income, minority, and disabled individuals and communities in regional planning; to make recommendations on issues and analyses relevant to the needs and circumstances of low-income, minority, and disabled communities; to help identify the potential benefits and adverse effects of public infrastructure and services addressed in regional planning programs with respect to minority, low-income, and disabled populations; to advise and recommend methods to prevent the denial of benefits, and to minimize or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse negative impacts on minority, low-income, and disabled populations; . . .

• Beyond Commission efforts to notify and inform, and obtain input from, the general public, the Commission will seek opportunities to notify and inform, and obtain input from, those most likely to be impacted by transportation proposals. The Commission will, for example, contact community groups of an affected and concerned area, and offer briefings and presentations to those groups at meetings held expressly for that purpose or during regularly scheduled meetings of those groups. Outreach contacts and materials will be done in user-friendly, lay language. Outreach efforts will also particularly be made to notify and inform, and obtain input from, low-income and minority populations.

In addition, in the comments on the TIP that I submitted on March 16, 2009, and that I incorporate by reference herein, I addressed the fact that funds from the Highway Infrastructure Program are to be prioritized for projects in economically distressed communities.

These funds are available for transit development, as those comments also stated.

Those priorities should be applied in deciding which projects to fund with stimulus dollars. I also request that you provide me with copies of all records showing whether or how these issues were discussed or considered in any process of deciding what projects to support with stimulus funding.

Submitted by:

Karyn L. Rotker
Senior Staff Attorney

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good for you, Karyn, and attaboy Jim.

All the lipservice about transparency and accountability doesn't amount to a hill of beans if the stimulus funds are funneled through dinosaurs operating in backrooms like SEWRPC.

If Wisconsin's Wolter and Fish aren't troubled by this ...

... then maybe it's time to call it to the attention of Earl Devaney.

The rush to spend should not, must not, be an excuse for shenanigans and waste!