Category Archives: Community Involvement

Greene Supervisors to Meet at Undisclosed Location


****CORRECTED 4:18 pm****

By. Neil Williamson, President

Over eight years ago, the Free Enterprise Forum called out the Greene County Board of See the source imageSupervisors for holding a public meeting and not notifying the media [Greene Supervisors Hold Secret Public Meeting].  This morning, in a moment of Deja Vu all over again, Greene County alerted the media, of a special meeting on December 18th at an “undisclosed location”. Here is the proposed agenda:

Greene County Board of Supervisors

Undisclosed Location

Tuesday, December 18, 2018 – 8:00 a.m.

1.         Call to order

 

2.         8:00 a.m.         –           CLOSED MEETING

Matters pursuant to Section 2.2-3711 (a, 1-7) of the Code of Virginia

3.         –           OPEN MEETING

4.         Reconvene, certify closed meeting

5.         Adjourn

We applaud Greene letting us know they are meeting.  We anticipate this is regarding the hiring of their new County administrator which is absolutely a proper use of the closed meeting provisions provided by Virginia State Code.

We believe holding the meeting at an “Undisclosed Location” is a violation of the **spirit but not the letter [added at 4:13 pm nw]** of public meetings law.

§ 2.2-3707. Meetings to be public; notice of meetings; recordings; minutes.

A. All meetings of public bodies shall be open, except as provided in §§ 2.2-3707.01 and 2.2-3711.

C. Every public body shall give notice of the date, time, and location of its meetings by:

1. Posting such notice on its official public government website, if any;

2. Placing such notice in a prominent public location at which notices are regularly posted; and

3. Placing such notice at the office of the clerk of the public body or, in the case of a public body that has no clerk, at the office of the chief administrator.

Emphasis added – NW

After publishing this post, I learned of a different code section that explicitly permits closed meetings at an undisclosed location.

B. The notice provisions of this chapter shall not apply to closed meetings of any public body held solely for the purpose of interviewing candidates for the position of chief administrative officer. Prior to any such closed meeting for the purpose of interviewing candidates, the public body shall announce in an open meeting that such closed meeting shall be held at a disclosed or undisclosed location within 15 days thereafter.

Greene County Board of Supervisors is hosting a legal meeting at an undisclosed location.  Despite being just as legal as the secret public meeting was in 2010 — it does not make it right.

Yogi Berra said it best, “Deja Vu all over again”.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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

Photo Credit: davescottblog.com

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Thankful, Hopeful & Skeptical in Charlottesville

By. Neil Williamson, President

In this time of Thanksgiving, I have so much to be thankful for; unexpectedly, the Charlottesville Planning Commission is now on that list.

Please let me explain.

Late in last night’s Planning Commission work session, after hearing the Free Enterprise Forum concerns with the proposed comprehensive plan and the land use map, as it existed prior to Saturday’s meeting, Chair Lisa Green asked that the map and narrative they created be shared with the 4 members of the public in attendance.  Each of us took photographs of the map and narrative with the understanding these are just drafts.

https://freeenterpriseforum.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/image2.png?w=208&h=310

Charlottesville Comprehensive Plan Map Draft Before Saturday (11/17) Planning Commission Matinee Meeting

comp plan photo 2

Revisions to Charlottesville Draft Comprehensive Plan Map from Post Planning Commission Saturday Matinee Meeting (11/17)

Comparing the two images, I see hope for increased intensity, AKA density, in many nodes.

Green expressed a desire for folks to read the narrative- something I refer to as the “Intensity Spectrum”.  Staff attempted to type in new language on the fly during Saturday’s meeting – that is the image below – it will undoubtedly change but we like the direction it is headed.

We again see hope in the draft language that was captured includes the verbiage “Missing Middle Housing”.  The previous version went from high to low with very little room for middle housing.

Comp Plan Photo 4

It is our understanding that the Planning Commission will see staff’s rendition of the changes at their regular December 11th meeting but the documents will have already been submitted for the December 17th City Council meeting.  The Planning Commission will deliver an incomplete update of the Comprehensive Plan, the Community Engagement chapter is not yet drafted and the Land Use chapter is not yet complete.

Council will provide their comments on the draft and it will return to the Planning Commission for further meetings and refinements (and completion of the two unfinished chapters).

While I remain a healthy skeptic waiting to see the devil in the details, I sincerely appreciate the direction and conversations about making the CITY of Charlottesville a “Welcoming urban environment for all people”.

So I am thankful for the Charlottesville Planning Commission for listening to the public AND sharing the draft output from their Saturday matinee session.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Respectfully Submitted,

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

The Countdown — Time to Think About 2019

By. Neil Williamson, President

Recognizing today is the ‘Morning After’ Election Day 2018, it may seem premature to start talking about 2019.  It’s not.

The Free Enterprise Forum believes the vast majority of the candidates for the 2019 races will make their decisions in the next 60 days.

That’s right, by the time you watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, who will be on the ballot in November (and the primaries) will likely already be determined.

Wait, we just had an election.

Yes, this is Virginia, we love elections so much we vote EVERY year.  What are we voting for in 2019?  So glad you asked — from Virginia’s Board of Elections:image

Some might look at that list (on the left) and believe this is not that important an election, we think otherwise.

While the Federal and statewide offices get a significant amount of publicity (and paid advertising), it is the local races that bring government home.  These are the elected officials you run into at the grocery store AND who control your property taxes, school spending as well as the majority of your land use decisions.

Who is up?

In addition to the House of Delegates, Virginia Senate, School Boards and Constitutional officers, here is the list for Board of Supervisors and City Council –

Albemarle County: Board of Supervisors Ann Mallek, White Hall; Rick Randolph, Scottsville; Norman Dill, Rivanna

Charlottesville:  Wes Bellamy, Kathy Galvin, Mike Signer [important note Primary Date is June 11th]

Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors Mozell Booker, Fork Union; Patricia Eager, Palmyra

Greene County Board of Supervisors David Cox, Monroe;  Michelle Flynn, Ruckersville; Dale Herring, At Large

Louisa County Board of Supervisors Willie Gentry, Cuckoo; Troy Wade, Louisa; Toni Williams, Jackson;

Nelson County Board of Supervisors  Thomas Bruguiere, Jr, West; Larry Saunders, South

Without question local (and state) government impacts your life.

The question is who will step up to fill these important leadership positions.

  • Will the current incumbents run again?
  • Will they have any opposition?
  • Who will step up?
  • Will there be a primary challenge?
  • Do you know someone who should run?
  • Should you run for office?

Once again we have more questions than answers but this much we do know – the candidates (and their families) will likely decide by NYE 2019.

The Free Enterprise Forum maintains an open door policy to talk with anyone regarding running for local office and what is required to serve.

As a non-partisan organization, we do not endorse candidates but we do support contested elections.  We believe uncontested elections make untested officials.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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.

VDOT Updates Greene Supervisors

By Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Normally,  Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  Residency Administrator Joel imageDenunzio provides the Greene County Board of Supervisors update.  In the October 9th meeting, Deputy Administrator Ed Nicholas filled in for Denunzio to give the  report.

Nicholas indicated the recent flooding events, especially in Madison and Stanardsville, have been a challenge to address across the district and that also delayed the normal mowing schedule.  He also addressed specific problems starting with South River on either side of Route 230 (Wolftown Road). In order to redirect the river on the west side of Route 230 back to where it had previously flowed, they are working with the property owner to develop a solution.  Once the solution has been fully engineered, an environmental permit will be required before they, or the property owner, can commence with this work.

image

South River Road

Prior to the Nicholas’ presentation, a young man and his mother spoke during ‘Matters From The Public’ and the youth addressed the South River Road flooding and its impacts on his life.  Chair Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville) asked Nicholas if VDOT could try to contact the young man and show he and his mother what is planned.

Also to be accomplished this week is to work on final grading and seeding on Route 33 near the Shenandoah National Park. In addition, in the next two weeks the VDOT property at the intersection of Route 33 and the Route 33 bypass will be cleared of debris, have dirt spread and it will be reseeded.

Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) mentioned to Nicholas that Greene County is reaching out to Washington, Richmond and the Army Corps of Engineers to ask for guidance/help on how to go forward with modifying the flow of several rivers in the county to minimize the impact to roadways. Martin asked that VDOT participate in these discussions.

Supervisor David Cox (Monroe) asked Nicholas what the priorities were on paving/patching the secondary roads in the county that have not yet been completed due to flooding. Especially Route 674 – Parker Mountain Road which is a 2 mile long stretch has a great many potholes and it needs to be addressed.  Nicholas assured Cox that VDOT would address this road and any roadway that is a safety issue.

Flynn brought up the final issue for VDOT asking when will Preddy Creek Road going away from Sheetz be addressed? The roadway continues to degrade and patching doesn’t seem to resolve the problem. Nicholas indicated that he would research the problem and reply with a timetable to address the issue.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Proposed Politically Proactive Agenda of Albemarle’s Community Advisory Committees

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentImage result for warner wolf let's go to the videotape

I grew up watching television sports anchor Warner Wolf’s trademark introduction to each evening’s highlights, “Let’s Go To The Videotape”.

I anticipate Wolf would be most appreciative of The Crozet Gazette recording (digitally) the entirety of last week’s Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) meeting.

But I get ahead of myself.  Please let me explain. 

The Free Enterprise Forum has been very critical of Albemarle County’s Community Advisory Committees.  Here are just a few of our posts:

Most of the people serving on these unelected development area committees are sincere residents working to make their community a better place by commenting on development proposals, evaluating traffic reduction measures and discussing community infrastructure investments.  But there are some that seem to believe these CACs, as they are known “represent the majority of the development area residents” and should be empowered to set the political agenda.

At the very end of last week’s CCAC meeting,  Former Planning Commissioner Tom Loach clearly outlined his desire for the group to work with the other CACs to develop a Proactive CAC Action Agenda:

Loach said:

Why we should have a dialog with the other CACs [is] because I don’t think their problems are any different than ours … Here every year we have a meeting that the county calls and its all the CACs together…. but nothing gets done, there is no result in it….

…What I would like to see us do is work with the other CACs and start to come up with an agenda, an action agenda, that we can use for all of the CACs for the next year so that when we do that we’re not talking as individual CACs we’re talking essentially as the majority of the residents of the growth areas … I’d rather be proactive than reactive.

…What I am looking for are the global [themes between CACs] that we can focus on as an agenda item to work with the Board [of Supervisors] Emphasis Added-NW

Don’t believe me, thanks to the Crozet Gazette we can [as Warner Wolf would say]  go to the videotape:  https://t.co/PZFK6W60bv

Now to be fair, Loach was seeking to have a larger discussion about this concept at the next CCAC meeting and the last minute proposal was greeted by CCAC members gathering their papers. The topic will be added to the group’s October agenda.

The Free Enterprise Forum has learned this is not the first time this issue has come up.  It was apparently discussed at the CAC Chairs/Vice Chairs meeting earlier this year.  The topic is listed as a 10 minute discussion item on tomorrow night’s Places 29 Rio CAC agenda.

We hope each CAC will push back on the Loach Proactive CAC Action Agenda concept, perhaps by citing Albemarle County’s specific charge of the CAC:

image

Based on the diverse membership of the CCAC and the general level headedness of the other CACs, I do not think the Loach Proactive CAC Action Agenda will see the light of day.

We hope not; such is the work of elected officials who are answerable to all the voters both in and outside of the development areas.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

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

Photo Credit: www.networthpost.com

What Is the Most Important Question in the C-ville Survey?

By. Neil Williamson, PresidentSee the source image

The Charlottesville Planning Commission is, once again, seeking public engagement regarding their drafting of the 2018 Comprehensive Plan.  This time the engagement methodology is an  online survey instrument.

While many folks will focus on the specific questions that are asked in the survey.  The most important question in any such survey is who will take the time (5-8 minutes) to complete the survey.

Will you?

You see when a respondent has to perform an action, such as visit a website or call in to answer, this is known as a self selection survey.

The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) cautions that results of surveys based on respondents who self-select may not be reliable. The characteristics of people who choose to participate in this type of survey may be different than those who do not in ways that bias the final results. These polls may sometimes be accurate, but it is very hard to evaluate whether they are accurate simply because of good luck or because they were able to capture good information about the population they were trying to represent. AAPOR has not yet made a final judgment about the reliability of opt-in samples, but warns that this type of sample is not based on the full target population.

Based on prior experience with self selection surveys, we anticipate the sample set will be over represented by a subset of the entire Charlottesville population who are more engaged with the planning process.  It is not that the survey seeks to exclude those currently unengaged, it simply is not built to achieve this goal.  With the Planning Commission looking to wrap their work by November, this is one of the last (but not the last) opportunities to weigh in on the proposed plan.

In the end, this survey document is one of many efforts the Charlottesville Planning Commission has made to engage the public.  The Free Enterprise Forum hopes the results will be used in their proper context and strongly encourages participation in this survey.The information collected will be considered when finalizing the Comprehensive Plan.

If you care about Charlottesville’s future, please encourage complete the survey by Thurs., Oct. 4th.

Respectfully Submitted,

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

Photo Credit http://deskofbrian.com

Fluvanna Supervisors Record Setting Non-Meeting

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

Yesterday, the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors set a new record for inaction and meeting See the source imagetime because legally they couldn’t do anything but two motions.

The Sept. 5 meeting lasted all of a minute or two because a quorum was not met. Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) and Don Weaver (Cunningham District) were present. Vice chairperson Mozell Booker (Fork Union District) had previously announced she would be absent. Chairperson Mike Sheridan (Columbia District) and Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) were not present.

The meeting was scheduled to start at 4 p.m. but was in a 45-minute holding pattern while the crowd mainly of staff or school officials waited for a quorum to be met. At 4:47 p.m. county administrator Steve Nichols announced the meeting was canceled because an unnamed third supervisor could make it, but in an hour — two hours after the meeting was scheduled to start.

County attorney Fred Payne announced a board of less than a quorum could only do two motions: defer the agenda and adjourn. With that, Nichols called the meeting to order in absence of the chair and vice chair people.

He asked if there was a motion to defer and adjourn. Weaver responded he would make that motion. Eager seconded. Nichols called for a vote and it carried unanimously.

The two supervisors then went to meet privately with the county attorney and administrator. Legally, supervisors can meet in groups of less than a quorum to discuss business without violating the open meeting laws. Once a quorum is met, it has to follow normal meeting procedures.

As Weaver and Eager left, Weaver said, “just two of us”, a reference to the gathering not being an official meeting.

Action that was deferred was BOS meeting dates change, library assistant position reclassification, E-911 grant, capital reserve maintenance fund supplemental appropriation, and the consent agenda.

Any item with a time sensitivity that waiting until Sept. 19 will not be feasible will have staff action. On Sept. 19 the board will have to ratify that action. It isn’t an ideal practice and is used sparingly.

But here’s what would’ve happened, had the meeting had a third supervisor:

The big ticket item that was the grant from the Virginia Information Technologies Agency. The $246,000 grant was awarded to Fluvanna to replace voice logging software and other E-911 equipment.

The state would pay for installation and increase contract costs for 24 months. Estimated increase in the contract is $12,000 a year. There is no local match required for the grant besides the county assuming the additional costs in month 25. The county previously received this grant in FY13 and FY14. Estimated deployment of the new equipment is the first half of 2020.

Another big issue was a supplemental appropriation of the capital reserve maintenance fund. This was connected to the unspent middle school funds from last meeting. FCPS is requesting $72,000 for abatement of an unusable classroom in the Abrams building.

County staff has gone through unused CIP allocated funds to see what could be transferred or returned to unassigned in the fund balance, the county savings. Staff found $138,000 of projects that could be moved to the Capital Reserve Maintenance Fund.

Those projects included are a no longer needed hydrogeological study, Carysbrook roof that was repaired instead of replaced, unspent funds of a completed courthouse fire detection system, and unspent funds of a completed courthouse lighting and control system.

A fifth project, building envelope renewal and repair, was reduced in scope or completed in other projects. It had a remaining balance of $120,000. Some of the project was for the historic courthouse that needs additional work of shutter repair, column restoration and painting all exterior trim. That $120,000 was requested to go towards work at the John Hartwell Cooke designed building.

The BOS meeting date change would push back the January 2019 meetings to the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month instead of first and third. The first Wednesday is January 2.

The reclassification of library assistant was to elevate the position to alleviate work from the library director. Currently all employees that work at the library report to the director. Elevating the position would allow a tier setup with chances for promotion. In the tier, only the assistants would directly report to the director. Other positions would report to the assistants.

But none of these happened. The supervisors will try again on September 19 at 7 p.m. Bring snacks.

The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Photo Credit:  PerrysburgRotary.org

VDOT Briefs Greene Supervisors

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

image

Joel Denunzio

Earlier this month, Joel Denunzio, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT)  Resident Administrator for Greene County, gave the Greene County Board of Supervisors supervisors his quarterly update

DeNunzio started by explaining that the resurfacing/repaving schedule has been purposely delayed in Greene County due to all of the rain in the past several months. However, he assured the supervisors that the work will be done starting late summer and continuing into fall. The main projects will be Mathew Mills Road and Preddy Creek Road.

In terms of the status of roadways from all the rain/flooding, DeNunzio stated that as of August 14th, approximately 55% of the damage has been corrected. To quantify the work that has been done, he explained that 25,000 tons of stone have been on the roads in Greene County. Of that amount, 12,000 tons were used on Bull Yearling Road. Over the last few months an average of 25 trucks per day have been used to distribute the rock throughout the county.

image

Route 33 West Greene County

DeNunzio updated the process on some specific projects. The Haneytown Road bridge project is now scheduled for February, 2019. Route 33 West has some failures and the preliminary plan is to place wire mesh around a boulder close to the roadway and then secure it by drilling into the ground by September this year.

The Route 29/33 project has approved the Moore Road intersection and the dual right turn lanes at the 29/33 intersection have been approved.

The Supervisors complimented VDOT for their progress to date. Chairperson Michelle Flynn (Ruckersville)  did request that VDOT communicate to the public the change in their schedule due to the weather. Mainly she wanted to ensure the public that the work was being rescheduled.

DeNunzio indicated he would update the VDOT website with the new schedule but also he mentioned that VirginiaRoads.org has a detailed schedule that is available for the public to access.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.  The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.  To support this important work please donate online at http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Charlottesville Engagement Enragement

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

In private life, in order to be ‘engaged’ one person has to ask and another has to accept.   Things are not nearly as clear or complete in the public sector.

Charlottesville Planning Commission AND Housing Advisory Committee (HAC) are wrestling with the proper calibration of their independent public engagement efforts.  Hours of discussion and deliberation have been dedicated to not only with whom they engage but also the manner such engagement reaches (or fails to reach) underrepresented demographic targets.

For the Comprehensive Plan the Planning Commission has been using more traditional town hall style meetings and workshops, while almost concurrently the HAC is seeking City Council approval to spend ~$200,000 to conduct a much more involved public engagement process regarding their Housing Strategy Document.

Please let me explain.image

If you follow me on social media, you have seen my #SeatsAvailable posts from countless public meetings.

In the last year, there have been significantly more, and more diverse meeting attendees (especially in Charlottesville).  This is a good thing; but not everyone is coming to the meetings.

Much of the world of citizen engagement is now digital.  Released earlier today, the 2018 Granicus Benchmark Report analyzed 1.6 million emails, activity from 185 million citizen subscribers, and visitor behavior on over 400,000 web pages over a one-year period (June 2017June 2018).

“In today’s data-rich environment, public sector communicators are turning to digital platforms that generate real-time performance metrics and deliver insights that can enhance their approach to citizen engagement,” said Granicus CEO Mark Hynes. “Measured across 4,000 organizations, the Granicus Benchmark Report provides industry metrics for engagement metrics so that communicators can iterate on the strategies that are working in the public sector. Better engagement translates into better outcomes for organizations and their priorities such as program adoption, participation in public meetings, or voter turnout.”

 The Institute for Local Government defines six different types of public engagement:

imageBy defining the goal of the engagement helps determine which of these topographies best fit.

In my estimation, too often localities are in the public information /outreach mode, where they want to tell you what they are doing but are not truly listening to the response.

The other end of the spectrum is equally bad where elected (and appointed) officials are too fearful of the public response and seek to put a finger in the wind for every decision.  This is best represented in this chart by the sustained public problem solving.  In this case rather than leading, the elected officials are creating scapegoats to duck what statutorily is clearly their direct responsibility.

The Planning Commission has been working on community engagement with their Comprehensive plan work since early last year.  Starting in May 2017, the city held a series of community engagement workshops explaining the comprehensive plan process and seeking input from the public regarding the plan and the land use map.  The planning commission then held nine more public outreach sessions (July-August 2017) with more detailed maps and listening stations and a structured questionnaire.  After the initial public workshops, the commission took this public input and worked on adjusting the previous (2013) comprehensive plan with the new thoughts and concepts.

In May 2018, the commission held four identical public workshops in locations across the City. Last week, in a meeting with City Council, there was less than satisfaction regarding the level of public engagement with the plan especially with the low income community.  It was determined that an outreach document would be prepared to solicit feedback and some members of City Council (Wes Bellamy and perhaps others) would work to get that document created, printed, distributed, collected and collated in the next four weeks.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…..

Engagement is a critical part not only of the Charlottesville Planning Commission’s Comprehensive Plan work but also the Housing Advisory Committee’s (HAC) Affordable Housing Strategy.  City Council and HAC will meet tomorrow (8/30) to discuss their outreach efforts.  They explain the import of such engagement to the effort:

engagement
In Charlottesville’s history, the failure of institutions and city government to be accountable to low-wealth communities, particularly communities of color, has taken many forms: violent suppression, structural oppression, neglect, half-hearted or insincere attempts that serve to manufacture consent, and well-meaning attempts that end up failing due to their assumptions, framework, and processes favoring those in power and resulting in lopsided and inaccurate information, community inaction, or community harm.
Housing is at the root of historical structural inequity and oppression in the United States, and it came to be this way deliberately. As we build a strategy to achieve a local housing landscape that is healthy, ample, high quality, and affordable, we must be equally deliberate in dismantling the dynamics and the structures that perpetuate continued inequity—structures that often go unnoticed by those of us who benefit from them or don’t directly experience their harm.
To that end, rather than relying on the existing power structure to set the narrative and define the discussion, the community engagement strategy must leverage community relationships and expertise to genuinely engage our community. This methodology is vital to the project’s success and to the quality and legitimacy of the final Affordable Housing Strategy.

The scope of the HAC public engagement plan is significantly more robust, active and expensive ($200,019) than the Planning Commission’s efforts.  The objective of this data collection is made clear in the HAC proposal:

The city will engage with a consultant to plan and execute the community engagement process, which includes community outreach and response, training of citizen-interns to engage peer-to-peer conversations within their communities, data collection, data analysis, information delivery, and stewardship. The consultant will be an advocate for eliciting, amplifying, and accurately reporting resident voices. . .

[scope of work includes]  . . . Design a community engagement process that will engage the most citizens in the most personal and most meaningful ways possible. The emphasis will be on proactively connecting and engaging with low-income residents, people of color, and others traditionally underserved, underrepresented, and/or overshadowed by citizens who are more vocal, affluent, politically involved, and deferred to.

Methods and activities could include the following:

  • community meetings (all meetings must include childcare and meals or refreshments)
  • door-to-door outreach
  • training of peer outreach workers to engage in peer-to-peer outreach that will leverage existing relationships and distribute communication efforts across the city
  • focus groups
  • distribution of self-guided discussion toolkits
  • tabling/interviewing at local gathering places, work hubs, and commercial spots
  • texting platforms for communicating with participants
  • use of social media and website

The Institute for Local Government describes three orientations of local government public engagement: Passive, Active or Sustaining.  Their experience (and ours) indicates that most local efforts to engage the public are one time events focused on one time issues a roadway (Bypass), climate provision, school budget, etc.  They advocate localities need to move toward a more sustained public engagement  and “embed” a capacity beyond these “one and done” efforts.

the benefits of sustained, effective and inclusive public engagement are significant. They include: better identification of the public’s values and ideas; more informed residents; improved local agency decision making and actions; and more public trust and confidence in local government.

In reviewing the Housing Advisory Committee Housing Strategy document, we believe this is significant outreach effort but wonder if such engagement is designed to be sustained.  Perhaps the HAC is seeing this as a pilot and if successful it could be easily reconstituted with the already trained peer-to-peer networks.

The Free Enterprise Forum does not take positions on budget line items such as the $200K HAC engagement plan. That is a value judgement for City Council to make.

We firmly believe that outreach opportunities should be provided to all citizens.

We also believe public engagement requires willingness to engage from all involved.  We are concerned that a lack of a specific, requested, action may be used to prove “The City is not listening”.

We also know, we are a representative democracy and that requires leadership not governing by survey/poll data.

You’ll never have all the information you need to make a decision. If you did, it would be a foregone conclusion, not a decision.–David Mahoney Jr.

There is a time to listen and a time to lead, we hope Charlottesville’s leaders are able to discern the difference.

Respectfully submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

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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