By. Neil Williamson, President
When a public employee charged with building regional cooperation tells a visiting delegation that our local elected officials are acting like “Space Aliens” and working with the community is like “100 warring tribes”, we have a problem.
Please let me explain.
On the morning of November 8th (Election Day), Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) Executive Director Stephen Williams gave a presentation to the ”Greater Mankato Inter City Leadership” at the Boar’s Head Inn. He indicated he could be frank in his remarks because the room was filled with people “he would never see again” and he did not see any elected officials in the room.
As I was scheduled to participate in a Public Policy breakout session following Williams remarks, I arrived early. Williams had started his presentation and as I did not see any open seats in the ballroom, I sat outside and listened to Williams speech from the adjoining room. I only mention this to be clear Williams did not know I was in the audience.
What I heard was exceedingly troubling and exposed the institutional arrogance of the TJPDC.
Williams was asked to address the Mankato delegation to speak about TJPDC’s Many Communities One Plan project. The TJPDC received a $999,000 federal grant for this planning exercise.
After insulting elected officials for acting like “space aliens”, Williams said that there is “an unfortunate trend” where the region is like “100 warring tribes not concerned about the good of the community at all”.
Williams then provided his seven strategies for advancing a sustainability agenda. His number one strategy was to “tune out the noise”. How does he define “noise”?
Newspapers, Elected Officials, Bloggers, Special Interest Groups
To be so dismissive of the citizens who pay for the work of the TJPDC is outlandish. To describe “special interest groups” on the left and on the right as warring factions only seeks to create an us versus them mentality.
But the very idea that the TJPDC should ignore these interested parties and focus internally speaks to the true institutional arrogance of the TJPDC – We’re the planners we know best.
Consider the above remarks when contrasted with the TJPDC Mission statement:
“The mission of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is to serve our local governments by providing regional vision, collaborative leadership and professional service to develop effective solutions.”
In their Public Involvement Policy the TJPDC says:
We recognize that public involvement is an essential component of the planning and programming process and believe that input from the public and partners results in better plans and successful implementation.
Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. Either Williams misspoke or the TJPDC Executive Director is not following his very own Public Involvement Program.
As one of the “Special Interest Groups” Williams suggests “tuning out”, the Free Enterprise Forum believes our well researched reports on Community Land Trusts, Transportation, Government Spending, and others have helped to inform the debate. We would argue that data provided by other organizations is equally helpful to the discussion.
We are curious if the TJPDC Board of Directors, that is made up of a majority of elected officials, believes we are a community of “100 warring tribes” or share Williams’ definition of “noise”.
We certainly hope not.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a 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