FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” – Associate Supreme Court Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis
The need for speed at the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) will result in either underrepresentation of local governments or an opaque process that prevents a full public discussion of transportation options under consideration.
Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne has instructed former Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Phillip Shucet to facilitate a short term advisory panel to determine options for solving the US29 problem.
According the the VDOT website:
The 10-member panel …will include officials from Albemarle County, the cities of Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Danville, the towns of Culpeper and Warrenton, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Charlottesville and Lynchburg Chambers of Commerce and the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The group will meet three times in 36 days (the first meeting is tomorrow, 3/27) prior to May 5th and their recommendation will go to the CTB at their May 14th meeting.
Here’s the rub – While representatives from local governments are on the panel, how can they effectively determine the opinion of their elected bodies in such a short time? Most have only one meeting scheduled during these 36 days.
The Free Enterprise Forum sees four possible options for the representatives of government agencies:
- John Wayne – Have the representative speak their personal opinion and expect they can bring their council/board along
- Closed Door – Have representatives contact their council/board members privately one by one and determine their position on the the options presented
- Open Door – Hold special meeting of each of the council/board to publicly discuss the options the panel is considering
- Status Quo – Have the representative speak only to the public positions the elected body have already publicly debated and voted on.
If the groups determine to use the status quo there is no purpose for the meetings. It is highly unlikely the elected bodies will choose to have several special meetings in the midst of the budget cycle to discuss the transportation options presented to this panel.
Therefore, we fully anticipate the elected officials to use a combination of the John Wayne and Closed Door option to move their individual agendas forward.
While we have already heard the options considered will not include a bypass option, the speed and methodology of this process leads me to believe the Administration has predetermined the solution and is using this fast track to provide the appearance of public buy in.
This reality coupled with the panel’s desire to eliminate spoken public comment (such comments may only be entered on their website www.Route29Solutions.org) leads us to believe the process is not seeking citizen input but instead is sprinting to the predetermined CTB deadline.
Despite VDOT’s best efforts to appear to promote panel transparency – including live streaming the meetings via www.Route29Solutions.org – the timing and construct of the panel actually obscures public view of their elected officials’ deliberations.
Without appropriate sunlight, citizens will never know what goes on behind the curtain.
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
Photo Credit: MGM Studios