Howard County Blog

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Trust

Trust is needed in order to cooperate.

I started my involvement in dealing with downtown Columbia with complete trust. In fact, I nearly did not go to the charrette because I had complete trust in Ken and Guy sitting on the Zoning Board able to look out for the community’s interest. I only went on the strong direct and personal urging of my friend Ken Ulman.

Throughout the last year I have had my trust destroyed. Last April as I was losing my trust I wrote:

Every single person [in the community] I have talked to in this process has wanted to work positively with county officials to find the best plan for downtown redevelopment, yet it seems to me that this process has been made a lot more difficult because 1) the plan the consultants presented after the charrette didn't reflect what the community said during the charrette, but what the developer had been advocating for, 2) the fact that the plan has yet to be changed to reflect what the community has been consistently saying on things that there was near universal agreement about at both the charrette and the focus group like mixed income housing, 3) the effort by some to close the public out of the process, and 4) actions like the lack of the promised video of the Feb. 27th meeting that break down trust. I truly would like to see trust restored in this process, but I think the situation is clearly in the hands of the Department of Planning and Zoning and the new representative of General Growth to rebuild this trust.

The above comment was in response to the shock the community had when it was discovered that despite the Department of Planning and Zoning promising that the February 27th public meeting would be videotaped so there would be an undisputable public record of that meeting and what the community said, yet despite that promise the meeting was not video taped.

This is but one example of a long hard year, where I attend meeting after meeting and had my trust destroyed. Another glaring example was a Focus Group meeting about which I wrote the following:

What did you think of Wednesday’s focus group meeting on downtown Columbia redevelopment? My reaction can be summed up in one word: disgust! Utter disgust. I think the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) should be ashamed of themselves for their efforts to try to ramrod the Focus Group members into giving their assent to 1) positions they clearly had already said they were not in agreement with (such as 10% moderate income housing and 5% middle income housing) and 2) provide a blank check for decisions on key aspects of the downtown plan be made without coming back for further review before the focus group (in many cases this involved pushing unresolved issues into a less public format). DPZ gave the appearance that they wanted the Focus Group to just serve as a means to give the plan a stamp of public approval and a tool to try to co-opt specific community leaders. Luckily we, Howard County residents, are very politically intelligent (after all many of us work in DC and have seen the big boys play these games or played them ourselves) and the focus group hasn’t let this happen. The game of pushing a decision forward in a process by claiming future opportunities for input and then turning around at these later “opportunities” and claiming that these decisions have already been made and the time for input has passed is an old one. In fact it is such an old game that we should all be insulted that they thought we were suckers enough that they could pull this off. Let us stop these games! These decisions are way too important for this type of childishness. It is this exact type of bull-shit that has been reducing public trust.

I want to thank the members of the focus group who spoke up against giving there assent, particularly Liz Bobo, Jud Malone, and Bridget Mugane.

(I should note that I have come to conclude that DPZ was acting on instructions from elected officials and so I do not blame DPZ staff as much as feel sorry for them.)


Trust can be lost and once it is lost it is hard to earn back without a serious demonstration of good faith. We have not yet had that demonstration of good faith.

I have sat through all but two of the Focus Group meetings, every day of charrette week, all of the public meetings, and read all of the Department of Planning and Zoning documents that they have thus far put out and I have yet to see the developers offering anything concrete to the community. Yes, there is a lot of pretty language about what the plan “should” have, but there are no concrete commitments or even any sign of movement in that direction. I beg everyone to study this plan. I also strongly hope everyone remembers there is a huge difference between declaring something will be so without creating the means to implement it and actually creating the way something is implemented. All the pretty language in the world doesn’t mean anything unless the substance achieves it.

This post, which is done when I do not have time to write much, is hardly scratching the surface of the process by which I lost my trust providing only two snapshots that I have written about previously. I would love to have my trust restored by a substantive demonstration of good faith on the part of the developers or a sign that county officials are champions of those that they represent (and I have high hopes for the new council, which I think starts without baggage that has reduced trust in other quarters), but as time goes by and more things are done to destroy that trust the bigger that demonstration will have to be. Actions shall be the judge.

I started with good faith attending the charrette and repeatedly offering solutions to issues I was hearing from the community or seeing as I studied the plan. I always moderated my solutions proposals (with the one exception of mixed income housing which is a base requirement to stay true to Rouse’s vision of Columbia) to insure that they did not undermine the ability of the developers to make a huge profit. I talked to Dennis Miller and after he left I spoke with Doug Godine (the senior GGP officials) and I have seen zero give on their side. Under these circumstances the only tactic is to stand strong and advocate content of what would achieve a good plan. When and if GGP ever puts something on the table that shows they have been listening to the community or if DPZ revises their plan to reflect what the community has been saying then I am more than ready to take a fresh look and see if we can move forward. I am ready to approve a plan tomorrow if I thought it might work, but first we must see such a plan. I have been spending a year offering up solutions I thought would satisfy the community, achieve a good plan, and make sure the developer made a huge profit. Despite countless hours and meetings over the past year I have seen no change to the plan. The solution is not to cave. Time is on our side, not theirs. The moment they are ready to talk and demonstrate good faith I am ready. Till then I urge everyone to not start letting them play one preferred amenity off another. We will all lose out in that circumstance. There is a reason why divide and conquer is such a common strategy. Let us not let that happen here. We are all stronger and smarter than to let that happen.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trust is preferred but not needed. Do you think all members of any legislative body trusts every other member? Do you think every group of individuals who work together toward a goal completely trusts each other?

Most often not or else they would trust that the others would take care of it. They are usually there because they do not completely trust that it will get done well without them.

Very often elected officials have more information and a greater perspective than they are able to share with the public at large. You have not given your complete trust to those who were elected to be trusted because they have not given their complete trust to you and me?

If you really care about the community, what issues are you willing to compromise and acquiesce on for the greater good? Despite your position that compromise is weakness, when losing a battle allows you to win a war faster and with fewer casualties, it is generally considered sad but worth it.

You misunderstand our power as a community. Things will get slid into town center over the next 10 years while we are whining and at the end of the day, there will just be a bunch of disconnected crap that got through piece by piece. Look at comp-lite—almost all the properties got through while the community was complaining. We can collaborate and create synergy downtown. On some things we will agree to disagree but on most, we will get what we want.

Maybe we the residents don’t know everything. Definitely DPZ and the electeds don’t. This us v. them strategy, especially from a Democrat during a Democratically controlled local government, is not helpful at all.

5:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Affordable housing (there are people who can’t afford to live here right now),
transportation, safety,
kids of color not doing as well in school, domestic violence, a rising drug culture in our middle schools,
an emerging gang problem, our green infrastructure,
the high school populations on free or reduced meals, people who can’t speak very good English not getting the appropriate services (healthcare, education, etc.), seniors who made Howard County great but who can no longer afford the property tax on the home they raised their kids and grandkids in,
most importantly (in my opinion) grooming the next generation of leaders and public servant to lead and serve.

Not that 7 more stories from a ground height of 5’10” is not important, but is it the most important issue in Columbia right now?

The brilliance and energy that is going into harboring negativity and fighting against something saddens me, especially from those who would be so precious in fighting for something.

6:10 AM  
Blogger Tom Berkhouse said...

I am glad that you (Evan) finally clarified in your posting that you understand that DPZ may be following fdirection of the elected officials and that you feel sorry for them. You are absolutely correct. DPZ does not call the shots during these types of events (the charette). The Director of DPZ takes orders from the CE and the Councilmembers. So, please don;t heap the blame on them. Direct your feelings of discontent and betrayal at the people who ARE controlling the process (namely the people you and people like Hayduke supported during the campaign cycle). Call Ken Ulman to task for his action (or inaction as the case may be) throughout the charette process.

The plan can be better - but you'll have to apply the pressure to right people and maybe they'll listen to you and not put politics over common sense.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

Tom,

I think I have been pretty consistent in saying that we must keep our elected officials to account and put preasure on them to look out for the interests of the community. I did not support any candidate for county council or county exec on this blog and I have not said who I voted for in 2006 on this blog yet. I have mentioned who I volunteered for in 2002, but I assess each election independently and I am a strong believer in holding elected officials to account (or rewarding them) for their records in office. I strongly urge you not to make assuptions.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is everything about pressure? There is a reason why we often do not get sensitive, thoughtful elected officials who admit when they are wrong and change course appropriately. We focus on criticism and pressure.

We can expect only so much from one person in the Executive and 5 part-time citizen-legislators. What more are we going to do that is positive and when are we going to start stand for something and not merely against almost everything?

5:50 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

Anon,

Clearly you did read me saying "reward them" as well. I give about 10-15% of my income each year to help the candidates I like get elected. If more average people gave to the candidates they like elected officials would be less dependant on those seeking government handouts like corporate welfare and contracts or have business before elected officials requiring licences, permits, and zoning changes. I also where I can give lot of time and shoe leather to reward candidates and elected officials good behavior. However it is a two way steet. You also have to punish elected officials for bad behavior. And it takes a constant conversation including preasure to remind elected officials who they represent. Businesses can pay people to talk to elected officials and lobbiest can spead all day while average people are working finding ways to get the ear of politicians, but average citizens have jobs and family obligation that often make it harder to follow things and engage in conversations with their elected officials so elected officials all to easily sink into a bubble where the people they talk to are lobbiests.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Tom Berkhouse said...

Evan,

You are correct that I was assuming you supported Ulman. Since I did not hear much if any criticism of his involvement in Comp Lite, I assumed that you were supporting him, or at least NOT supporting Merdon.

Yes - you have been very consistent in demanding accountability from all officials. But, you have also seemed a little tougher on DPZ than should be.

I applaud your in depth and thorough evaluation of the proposed Town Center plans. I don't support doing anything in Town Center - but you at least back up your stances with more than just emotional fluff.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the CE is not worthy of our trust - the Cabinet Secretary claim (among others) on his resume showed he would do anything to further his career

12:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

home mortgage

11:28 PM  

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