Monday, December 7, 2009

Federal Push For More SEWRPC Transparency Rang Hollow

Sean Ryan at the Daily Reporter duly noted last week that the federal official in charge of releasing a review of the performance of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission urged the agency to better connect with the public.

I was at said meeting, and I can only shake my head at the dance going on between the agency and its federal reviewers.

If they had all wanted a better connection with the public, then why schedule the meeting - - like all full SEWRPC board meetings - - with only the most obscure notices, and during the working day rather than in the evening?

And why delay the release of the report at least eight months after a well-attended public session produced much of the feedback that both the commission and the feds brushed aside in the review?

SEWRPC has been spending in the neighborhood of $5-$8 million annually in taxpayer dollars for years, decades, but intentionally flies under the radar by deliberately doing outreach and communications with the general public at the bare minimum.

SEWRPC likes to think of itself as a think tank that works for other planners or county governments as institutions, which is why if you read the agency's written responses from the public at the end of a long-forgotten planning process you find what local planners refer to as "review and dismiss."

In other words, the public is not sought and respected as a true partner, or what planners would call "stakeholders" in the scheme of things.

So after 50 years, SEWRPC has an outreach manager? One guy? And still has to be told by the feds to better communicate with disregarded low-income and minority communities, and to write communications in plain English?

These same issues were addressed by the feds after the 2004 report, so you can't tell me that either SEWRPC or the feds take the entire issue seriously.

The only time you get SEWRPC's attention is when you threaten their easy revenue stream through automatic distribution of funding from the county boards, which is why both then-Executive Director Phil Evenson and current Executive Director Ken Yunker sprinted down to City Hall in 2008 to chat up aldermen who adopted a resolution calling on the state legislature to clean up the agency's no-Milwaukee-representative/taxation-without representation structure.

The feds know that Milwaukee is unhappy with SEWRPC's structure, but in the review said that was outside of the review's scope.

So much for a real connection with the general public - - that is, with the largest municipality in the agency's seven-county region, and with most of the region's minorities.

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