Move raises questions about how much time volunteers waste on city-driven planning exercises

COLUMBIA, 10/10/12 (Beat Byte) -- For citizen volunteers who spend untold hours on city-driven planning exercises like visioning, charrettes, and special committees, a September report from city administrators may be bad news.

In a series of one-line dismissals, the report signed by city manager Mike Matthes advises the Columbia City Council against seven Vision Report recommendations. Instead, Matthes and his team side with the city government status quo, supporting departments like REDI, which has become remarkably unpopular over its private business lobbying mission.

Known as Imagine Columbia's Future, city-driven visioning kicked off in 2007, with "citizen topic groups," paid consultants and city administrators who helped drive discussion, and ideas described in a Vision Report.
The report recommended creating a Landscape and Tree Board; but this September, city staff said "no," instead favoring city arborist Chad Herwald, whose recently-licensed side business -- Cambium Tree Experts -- continues causing controversy.

The Vision Report recommended six other ideas, including an Intercultural Council; city staff said no, with a one-line reason: "these issues are being addressed through other efforts...such as the annual diversity celebration."

A Regional Science and Technology Network should not be created, city administrators told the Council, because "these issues are being pursued by REDI and the City's Economic Development Department." Likewise, a Community Educational Facilities Commission is a bad idea because the Columbia Public School board already oversees educational facilities (like the $8 million admin headquarters and schools just now getting air conditioned).

A Transportation Advisory Commission, Natural Resources Committee, and Land Preservation Authority are also bad ideas from the Vision Report, city administrators say, because city government or other agencies already handles those areas.

The Vision Report rebuke should prompt future citizen participants to consider two questions: Do their ideas really matter at City Hall?

Or are they engaged in a time-wasting charade, with a veneer of public participation, designed to maintain a monopoly on policymaking enjoyed by a few local power players like REDI's corporate overseers?