By calling the State Fair police to expel to distant parking lot street entrances taxpayers from a citizen coalition trying to hand out leaflets during one recent highway open house, and to another floor at a second open house - - both in public facilities - - Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials are trampling on the spirit and specifics in federal guidelines governing transportation project meetings.
"Stakeholders prepare visual and written materials to make their viewpoints known. Space can be made available for community viewpoints expressed in documents or graphics. At the invitation of the Tennessee DOT, American Indians and environmental groups teamed up to display their own materials at a table during an open forum hearing. People representing these groups were present to discuss their position...
"An open forum hearing without an audience session precludes debate on a proposal’s merits. Parties do not hear opposing views first-hand -- nor do they have an opportunity to clarify stances or raise questions about opposing viewpoints. Some critics charge that agencies use open forum hearings as a "divide-and-conquer" strategy. If differing views are not heard, the public may be surprised to find a controversy exists. When people hear one another, they develop an improved understanding of a proposal and its implications for other people. To assure that multiple viewpoints are presented at an open forum hearing, the Ohio DOT allows community groups to set up exhibition tables near the open meeting tables, labeled clearly to distinguish them from agency tables.
The entire point of the guidelines is to make people feel comfortable at the meetings and to maximize citizen participation.
I don't see in the federal guidelines"call the cops...send people with leaflets outside to the street or downstairs as people get onto an escalator, all designed to make interaction and communication and perhaps persuasion impossible..."
WisDOT, annoyed at the Highway J/164 coalition over a lawsuit contesting a project in Waukesha County and more rural Washington County, has decided to limit, not encourage, the coalition members' participation at open house meetings relating to the Zoo Interchange and other regional highway projects.
WisDOT is also stepping on the coalition members' First Amendment rights to free speech, free assembly, plus Due Process, too.
It is regrettable that state legislators and mainstream media, always on the lookout for overbearing, anti-democratic government action, have not sharply criticized WisDOT for these practices.
I suppose it will take a lawsuit to get WisDOT to change its ways, but isn't that absurd?