Some panel members question efficacy of a project that doesn't include city council appointees
"The whole thrust of this thing is citizen engagement and broad community involvement to make sure that all people in Tulsa are represented in the process," said Martha Schultz of the city's Planning Department.
Her comments regarding PLANiTULSA, the nascent effort to craft a comprehensive plan to chart the city's course for the next 30 years, pretty much sums up Mayor Kathy Taylor's stated approach to the program.
But, some involved parties are taking a "wait and see" attitude about how broad, genuine or effective that "community engagement" will actually be.
The official word on who those engaged citizens will be isn't set to be released until Monday, June 16, but word on the street is that the names have already been chosen for membership on the two committees that will advise John Fregonese and Associates on the comprehensive plan.
The president and namesake of the Oregon-based consulting firm, as Schultz explained to UTW, is "kind of a rock star when it comes to urban and regional planning."
Fregonese, or "Frego," as he's affectionately called by the PLANiTULSA movers-and-shakers we talked to, previously updated the comprehensive plans for, among others, Dallas, Denver, and some Katrina-affected communities in Louisiana before contracting to bring some of his master-plan mojo to the city of Tulsa earlier this year.
"This is not their first trip to the rodeo," said Theron Warlick, also of the city's Planning Department, about Frego and Co.
And the importance of this particular "rodeo" can't be overstated.
"This is the principal policy document for Tulsa for years and years to come," Warlick said.
Warlick and Schultz are leading the coordinating efforts for the planning process along with Susan Neal, the Mayor's director of community development and education.
The comprehensive plan will provide a framework for development, urban design, transportation infrastructure, land use, housing, public facilities, historic preservation, and every other component of the city's growth, operation and structure for the next 30 years.
It was last updated in 1978.
Warlick told UTW that they're hoping to conclude their efforts by late summer or early fall of 2009.
According to the Frego-style methodology, the urban planning guru will work in consultation with two panels of Tulsa citizens during the 15-month process.
The first is a 30-member group referred to collectively as "the Advisors."
The Advisors will meet with Frego and city staff on a monthly basis and, as Shultz explained, will have a "hands-on, directive" role in the process.
The other group, the "Partners," number 100 and will meet with Frego and Co. on a quarterly basis and will be asked to promote the planning process in the community, participate in workshops and public events and give feedback on the direction of the plan.
"The role of the Partners will be further defined by him on a meeting on June 16th," said Schultz.
"Both groups will have input on helping steer Fregonese toward understanding Tulsa and understanding what's important here and what our priorities are and understanding what's important to different areas of the city, and what's important to the city overall," said Neal.
"Fregonese is interested in learning what values we have in common and working toward solutions to what people see as their priorities from that set of values," she added.
Those 130 people to provide Fregonese with insight into those shared Tulsa values were ultimately chosen by the Mayor, based on recommendations made primarily by Schultz, Warlick and other city staff involved with PLANiTULSA.
Warlick said prospective participants were drawn from neighborhood associations, community planners, members of the previous steering committee that recommended Fregonese as the city's consultant and from recommendations from other PLANiTULSA players, which included members of Tulsa's Young Professionals (TYPros).
The names of the approved Advisors and Partners will not be released to the public until June 16th, but Neal said participants include people from all over the ethnic, professional, political, socio-economic and geographic map.
"We've worked hard to get a diversity of opinions, backgrounds, skill sets, professions and socio-economic status in an attempt to bring in voices from different parts of our community," she told UTW.
"Homebuilders will be at the table. We've included people who are . . . pro-conservation districts and people who aren't. So, that will be discussed," Neal added.
Of course, it remains to be seen how diverse the citizen involvement will actually be until the specific names are released, but Neal and the others wouldn't budge when UTW asked for a sneak peek.
Prospective members of the two panels were invited to participate via letters from the Mayor's office last week, in which they were asked to attend the PLANiTULSA Advisory meeting on the evening of June 16, and to respond to the invitation by June 13, which is why, Warlick said, the Mayor's office wouldn't release the names of the Chosen 130 before then.
"Should we be publishing people's names before they have a chance to answer the invitation?" he said.
We at UTW don't know why not?
But, we do know of at least two of the invitees for the larger group of Partners: Herb Beattie of the Brookside Neighborhood Association and Michael Bates, renowned UTW columnist, blogger, and a frequent critic of the Mayor's policies.
We wouldn't normally go to one of our own as a source in an article, especially since Bates would just write about it in his column anyway, but since he's part of the story now, we asked him for comment. We hope Mr. Warlick doesn't mind.
And, he's taking the Mayor's populist gesture with a grain of salt.
"While I'm pleased to learn that a number of neighborhood activists and local government watchdogs have been selected for the 'outer circle' Partners' group, it's the composition of the inner circle Advisers' group--the real steering committee--that will demonstrate the Mayor's willingness to be inclusive with this process," said Bates.
He said it isn't enough to include geographical or ethnic diversity in the smaller group because, he said, "it would be easy enough for the Mayor to find people who look different and live in a different part of town but who think just like she does.
"If the Advisers' committee includes gadflies, naysayers, troublemakers and vocal critics of the Chamber of Commerce, of the development lobby, and of the Mayor herself, then I'll know that the Mayor is serious about an inclusive process that will serve all Tulsans, not just a favored few," Bates added.
But, he said he's going to hold his judgment in abeyance until after the June 16 meeting and public announcement, after which time he'll likely write about it in his weekly column.
But he's not holding his criticism entirely in reserve until then.
Since the impact of the soon-to-launch comprehensive plan process "will be felt long after the current Mayor and City Councilors are dead and buried," Bates said Taylor shouldn't be the only elected official making appointments to the Advisors' group.
"The councilors should have been allocated some of the appointments. To ensure diversity of opinion, even former officials and recent unsuccessful candidates receiving a credible share of the vote should have been given a say," he said.
Beattie is also withholding his judgment for now.
He identifies himself as someone who is "not going to say things they necessarily want to hear," but said he was impressed with PLANiTULSA's initial public comment meeting in May.
"I was impressed with the extent of the interview and the apparent real openness to hear opinions across a broad spectrum. It was not narrowly focused--'Would you support taxes for more roads' or stuff like that. So, I was impressed with the quality of the interview process, he said.
Beattie added, though, "What they do with the results, well . . . we'll see."
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