Group Think 101 and Greene County’s Comprehensive Plan

Kara Reese Pennella, Greene County Field Officer

 

            Recently (1/29), the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) led the Greene County’s Planning Commission and handful of citizens through another workshop aimed at developing the Vision Statement for Greene County’s Comprehensive Plan. This was the fifth public meeting (including a joint work session with the Multimodal Corridor Study) since November to utilize a public workshop model.

 

Unfortunately, not much has changed over the course of the five work sessions. Many of the same members of the public were spoon fed a few statistics regarding Greene County along with not so thinly veiled value laden judgments regarding how those statistics should be interpreted. Citizens and Planning Commissioners then divided themselves into groups to conduct the work session portion of the meeting. Large worksheets were distributed with the Draft Vision Statement and some selected points from the current Comprehensive Plan’s Vision Statement. We were told to highlight what we liked best in each category and what we thought was missing.

 

A lengthy discussion followed at each table. At the end each group reported back.  The result? Each group presented eerily similar lists that echoed what had been already hashed out at prior meetings. Many lofty hopes and dreams for the county were expressed but with no basis in reality. Costs of large projects were ignored. As was the question of whether local government with limited resources could or should provide the many amenities and services on everyone’s wish list.

 

I believe lack of critical and creative thinking can be attributed to a couple of factors. First is the desire to maintain niceties and cohesiveness within each group. We were sitting with our neighbors and nobody wants to be the person who shoots down their neighbor or friend’s ideas as impractical. Second, the values that TJPDC embraces and that we as a community are suppose to adopt have been made very clear throughout the 4 of 5 meetings I have attended so far. This increases the likelihood that dissenters will be less inclined to speak up. Nobody wants to be “wrong”, when the “correct” answer has already been indicated by the group’s leaders.

 

 Finally, there is the failure of the individual TJPDC facilitators to navigate conversation back to the task at hand. In this case the vision statement. As well as a failure by the facilitators to account for the pressures of group think and encourage critical thinking about each topic.

 

As for the Vision Statement that we were there to discuss a few groups failed to specifically address the draft statement. However, from those that that addressed the draft statement some very good points were put forth. First, one group noted that it is not the job of the county to “manage” growth and development. Second, several groups noted that the use of language such as “multimodal transportation” and “clean industry” may be widely used in the world of planning, but are not understandable to the average person and should not be used in a vision statement.

 

Hopefully, the second draft of the vision statement will provide a balanced, straightforward and understandable vision that better reflects the values of the County as a whole. Overall greater citizen participation and willingness for dissenters to come forward is required if this Comprehensive Plan is to be successful.

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2 responses

  1. The last comprehensive plan was a bag of wish lists and this one will be the same.

  2. The review of the meeting was perhaps a bit hard edged & cynical? Anytime a diverse group of citizens — particularly in a rural county — gets together to discuss big issues it is understandable that budget (and other) realities are marginalized. It was exaggerated even more at the 1/29 meeting since this was to have been a “vision” excercise and budget brakes were neither applied nor encouraged to be applied! Perhaps there could have been better facilitation/guidance by TJPDC at some of the tables. Alas, one of the main objectives, I believe, was to get unimpeded citizen participation and expressed input (and these are hard to come by in our democracy these days with busy schedules, cold weather, and night-time driving on rural byways). We can hope that as the comprehensive plan evolves in coming months we will see more reality-based input and that as a draft evolves it will reflect BOTH budget realism AND the expressed needs of the community. Frankly, Greene has a fine Comp Plan now (based on how it reads and how I observe public input so far in the new exercise) and may not need more than tune-ups and updates. Thus, in my humble view, what is really needed is: 1) rank order prioritization (what’s critical, what’s important, and what’s on the wish list), 2) an understanding of what is possible in what will be a bleak budget in coming years, and 3) that the County (any County) makes a serious attempt to follow the Plan that has been developed and approved.

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