Saturday, May 23, 2009

Where's That SEWRPC Certification Review?

Every four years, the Federal Highway Administration comes to town to review the performance of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

If SEWRPC passes the test, the feds recertify the agency as the area's Metropolitan Planning Organization, and as a duly-certified MPO, SEWRPC gets to allot certain federal dollars in the region that build highways and run transit systems.

Powerful stuff.

In 2004, the review included a public hearing that went on for hours, as aggrieved citizens lined up to bash SEWRPC's ineffective inclusion of low-income and minority residents.

The certification was reissued, but SEWRPC was made to create an Environmental Justice Task Force to formally bring in the excluded groups.  That task force got named in 2007 and, after some bumps in the road, has prevailed on SEWRPC to begin including socio-economic analyses by independent contractors in all SEWRPC studies and plans.

The 2008 review was carried out in the fall; the release of the findings were delayed, and federal officials told me in March that the report would be made public in two months.

That would be sometime next week, at the latest.

My efforts to get a more precise date, or a draft of the report, were unsuccessful.

I'm predicting SEWRPC will get better marks this time because it actually got the task force off the ground, and a few weeks ago hired an outreach manager, Steve Adams.

And managed to launch a housing study for the first time in 35 years.

The feds will say that is progress - - even though SEWRPC is now the subject of two civil rights complaints over its hiring and committee appointment record, spending priorities and other issues.

Squaring those complaints with a finely-tuned MPO operation in a region with one of the poorest and most segregated populations regionally will be a bureaucratic spin of the highest order.

I don't believe there will ever be genuine participation in regional planning by low-income and minority residents, groups and communities until Milwaukee withdraws from SEWRPC, and with the county, and perhaps Racine, launches a new planning body that can focus on urban issues, and with MPO status and powers.

I've made that argument before, and think it's completely accurate today.

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