FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
Last week a joint meeting between Albemarle County and City of Charlottesville Planning Commissions was held to update the “decision makers” on the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission’s progress on the almost million dollar federal planning grant it received earlier this year.
“What I see happening is that we’re creating this performance measurement system and I’m not sure what we know what we’re measuring yet until we know what our goals and objectives are as a community,” Franco said.
In a previous post we raised concerns that the planning staffs (Charlottesville, Albemarle and TJPDC) were driving the process. Rather than an opportunity for feedback or even reflection, the joint meeting was a presentation of the metrics staff has selected to use to determine the livability factors. The data sets that have been chosen will clearly define the results. While staff was seemingly open to new data sets they clearly did not appreciate being challenged by commissioners.
[TJPDC Senior Planner Summer] Frederick said that work would be refined by a series of community workshops that will be held in the fall and winter.
“The overarching questions we’ll be asking at these meetings is whether the goals and objectives are still relevant,” Frederick said
In the public comment, The Free Enterprise Forum, the only public to speak at the meeting raised concerns that this seemingly was a meeting to discuss planning another meeting. We also raised concerns regarding the staff selected metrics.
On a more troubling note, it seems that the staff is brining forward the ideas to the Planning Commissions as a courtesy, not really looking for input. When hard questions were asked they were dismissed. This meeting and the one that proceeded it clearly felt like the Delphi Method was being used. The Informed Residents of Reading (MA) blog had a good synopsis on the Delphi Method:
The Rand Corporation in the early 1960s developed the Delphi technique for the purpose of maneuvering segments of the public into accepting predetermined government policies. In the 1970s and ’80s, it was ideally used to convince land owners of the merits of accepting joining and general plan maps. One variation on the Delphi technique is to use a series of meetings.
Anyone knowledgeable enough, or brave enough, to speak out in opposition will not be welcomed. Often they are told from the podium, “We don’t have time to discuss that now,” or “We discussed that on another date,” or “We can discuss that after the meeting.” They will attempt to quiet, isolate, and discredit dissenters. After attending the Delphi meeting, participants may feel uneasy that they are in disagreement with the apparent majority. [Emphasis added-nw]
Another blog, the Virginia Land Rights Coalition puts it even more bluntly:
So, now, those who organized the meeting in the first place are able to tell the participants and the rest of the community that the conclusions, reached at the meeting, are the result of public participation.
Actually, the desired conclusions had been established, in the back room, long before the meeting ever took place. There are variations in the technique to fit special situations but, in general, the procedure outlined above takes place.
The natural question to ask here is: If the outcome was preordained before the meeting took place, why have the meeting? Herein lies the genius of this Delphi Technique.
It is imperative that the general public believe that this program is theirs! They thought it up! They took part in its development! Their input was recognized!
If people believe that the program is theirs, they will support it.
If they get the slightest hint that the program is being imposed upon them, they will resist.
The most telling quote in the entire Charlottesville Tomorrow story came from Charlottesville City Planning Manager Missy Creasy:
“We’re trying to create as many different avenues as possible for citizens to feel they can be a part of this process,” Creasy said. [Emphasis added-nw]
Considering all of the above, how do you “feel” about this process.
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, Louisa and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org