When Did Focus Groups Replace Leadership?

By. Neil Williamson, President

A quote from Chiara Canzi’s C-ville Weekly article about the latest Meadowcreek Parkway delay accurately sums up the philosophy of many of the region’s decision makers (and regulators):

[Julie] Langan [of state Department of Historic Resources]  proposed that all the consulting parties meet and discuss mitigation issues.

“What you work toward is a consensus among the project applicant, our office, the advisory council on historic preservation, and the community,” says Langan. “We would think that there might be suggestions that haven’t been made yet that could be appropriate and that’s why we think there should be another meeting.”[emphasis added-nw]

If only this were an isolated incident.  One need only look at Sunday’s Op-Ed in The Daily Progress to see another example where a regulatory agency (Department of Environmental Quality – DEQ) has been asked to facilitate a meeting between Charlottesville and Albemarle, the two localities that meet on water matters every month under the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority.

In a carefully worded letter on Nov. 23, DEQ asked for clear confirmation about its role in such a meeting, which it sees as:

* Providing technical background information.

* Facilitating and encouraging “constructive dialog” among the local two governments and two water authorities charged with developing and implementing a water plan.

Indeed, as the letter hints, it would be highly improper for DEQ to become more involved. It’s the agency that has to issue a permit for any new water project. It cannot simultaneously steer local decision-makers in any particular direction, or even appear to do so.

Perhaps even more surprising is the recommendation coming out of the subcommittee of the Commonwealth Transportation Board regarding the US 29 Corridor study and the disconnect between Charlottesville MPO (including Albemarle County), who favor grade separated interchanges on US 29 and the Lynchburg/Danville community, who would prefer to bypass the Charlottesville community rather than drive through. 

In the minutes from the subcommittee meeting (which have since disappeared from the web), the subcommittee was planning to recommend the CTB hire a super mediator to work out the issues between the communities.

In each of these instances, I am reminded of a quote from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke:

Captain, Road Prison 36: What we got here is… failure to communicate.

As one who has watched this movie at least a dozen times, I am fairly certain that the Captain misdiagnosed this problem. 

The Free Enterprise Forum believes that leadership often requires clear bold stances.  Having such clear lines is not an invitation for insurrection but should be an invitation to win in the marketplace of ideas. 

Further, once a matter is decided, it has become commonplace for the “divas of delay” to use the threat of litigation to hinder the approved community’s advancement.

A failure to actualize projects that have been agreed to by previous elected bodies brings the credibility of all elected positions into question.

We don’t need another meeting, we don’t need mediation, we need a little leadership.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org




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