The people who participate in Community Councils these days blow me away. They don’t just plan picnics any more. These folks educate themselves so that they can help negotiate complicated development deals, lobby elected representatives, and make sure their neighborhood is getting its fair share of media attention.
Right now Madisonville is especially hot. The Community Council is smack-dab in the thick of the process – and long-term resident, Bill Collins, is very much involved (along with the remarkable, Luke Brockmeier, president). Anybody who spends any time on civic social media sites knows Bill. A former reporter, he’s very well informed and regularly sends me information about the issues in his neck of the woods.
Last week Bill submitted testimony to City Council on a proposed development on Red Bank Rd. but the point he makes about how Cincinnati decides commercial real-estate issues is important for all of us to understand:
The City’s current processes for community input on development and land-use questions are opaque and frustrating for communities. The processes used by the City today are fundamentally flawed. They undercut community input, and they favor well-funded developers, many of whom make large campaign contributions to mayoral and City Council candidates.
Public-input processes used by ODOT and CPS are far superior to the public-input processes used by the City of Cincinnati. In contrast with our experience with the City of Cincinnati, in recent years, the Madisonville community has had great success when it has engaged in public-involvement processes with other government entities. Here, notably, I am talking about the much more effective community-input process that are used today by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS).
With ODOT, it is federal law — as enforced by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Columbus regional office of the Federal Highway Administration — that compelled ODOT to listen to communities like Madisonville, Mariemont and Newtown. By listening to us and our suburban neighbors via a serious and thorough public-engagement process, ODOT finally reached the excellent decision that it did last week on the Eastern Corridor project to keep the Little Miami Valley intact by not relocating State Route 32 through the valley of this priceless State and National Scenic River.
With CPS, the school board has not been forced to listen to us by any federal law or state law. However, because the CPS board has developed a smart methodology for what the board calls ‘fact-finding’ meetings — i.e,, meetings where the full CPS board meets and dialogues with community people at 5PM on weekdays across a conference room table in open meetings — this approach facilitated the exchange of views with us in Madisonville which is leading to what should be an exciting future for our neighborhood CPS public elementary school.
At City Hall today, there is a lot of talk about best practices, bench-marking and public input, but when will the walk match all this talk? If City Hall is serious about supporting communities the City of Cincinnati needs to appoint a special task force of City staff, Council members and neighborhood leaders to review what agencies like ODOT, the Cincinnati Public Schools, and other more forward-looking public agencies are doing in order to partner more effectively with taxpayers, parents and citizens.
Through the work of such a task force, the City can develop an improved community-engagement process with a shared goal of smarter development. We want developers to make healthy profits by creating new jobs, building better housing and bringing exciting new family-friendly amenities to the City. Let’s do it!
Thanks, Bill, for all you do for Madisonville and your city. Not only do your ideas on community engagement make a lot of sense, your generous spirit and bulldog-determination are the essence of good citizenship.