WHOSE PLAN IS THIS ANYWAY?
“A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.” ― Alfred Tennyson
The only thing more indigestible than Tompkins County’s refusal to allow residents meaningful participation in County government; is the County’s pretense of enabling public participation. The Tompkins County Comprehensive Plan’s “Listening to Community Voices” is a laughably unconvincing cover story; dismissively penned by those who are unconcerned with whether you believe it or not.
From Kickoff Survey:
“Tompkins County needs YOUR INPUT to help develop the scope of the Comprehensive Plan Update.”
“The purpose of this survey is to gather input on what should be covered in the update to the Tompkins County Comprehensive Plan.
However; the “ten elements already included in the Comprehensive Plan” by Tompkins County legislators, before the first community survey was even announced – are unchanged in the final document. The Comp Plan is a “revealed” document, not a participatory one.
The “kickoff survey” was a vague, generalized survey that used loaded terms like “Healthy Communities” to fish for results that would support policies that the County had already decided on. [Who wouldn’t vote for a healthy community?]
The two additional topic areas that were “identified” [from a list of thirteen possible choices supplied by the County] made no meaningful difference to the final County Plan.
“APPENDIX B – Public Comments and Responses” [not included in the Tompkins County Comp Plan document] shows how the County reacted to actual “Voices of the Community”:
“Can there be a policy that prioritizes transportation investments for the ‘transportation insecure’ – especially low-income families with children in rural areas.”
“I think it’s important to pay attention to the needs of rural residents. In addition to fixed-route what is possible as a systematic approach to meeting public transit needs.”
The County responded with the following “substantive change”:
“Proposed Policy: Consider the needs of populations that are particularly challenged by transportation when developing systems and alternatives.”
Note that County policy will only “consider” the needs, rather than “meet” the needs – and they refuse to acknowledge that rural residents have special problems or needs by excluding the mention of “rural” from their policy statement. The tag line of “alternatives” is used to hide the County’s real policy agenda – that the rural disabled and elderly are forced to rely on friends and neighbors, try to book a volunteer driver, or pay for expensive taxi service — or somehow travel the miles to their “Ag Ghetto” border; and wait on the side of the road for a TCAT bus.
Tompkins County’s rural population pays the same County taxes at the same rate as the rest of the county; but does not receive services like transportation and law enforcement — this is blamed on “the high cost of rural service and constrained fiscal resources” by the County — while at the same time, in a neighboring community only a few miles away; the buses stop every few hundred feet – and at tax exempt Cornell University; with students who only pay the occasional sales tax — there are so many buses in service that I’m told that it’s very difficult to drive around the campus.
“Overarching principle – looking out for rural landowners (Broaden the idea so people are as important as the rest of it.) All residents matter/ every resident matters.”
“A Foreword was added to explain how the principles, policies and actions of the Comprehensive Plan can contribute to a positive future for both urban and rural residents of the County.”
The Plan’s Foreword clearly shows that it is the principles, policies and actions of the County’s “vision” that are important – not the people. Tompkins County Legislators subordinate human worth to powerful interests and inflexible doctrine in every Comprehensive Plan policy.
“The assumption that ‘planners’ can design and provide the most desirable lifestyle for the most people is pure hubris.”
“This document is nothing more or less than an attempt to have the government control everything.”
“The questions suggest their own answers, those planners want to hear. They are designed to steer the outcome into a pre-ordained mold, subordinating individual choices to government control.”
“Many residents of the County appreciate the vision presented in this plan but some fear that it can only be achieved by more regulation and what is perceived as increased intrusion by government into their lives. The Foreword explains how local regulation has a role to play but that the County does not have such direct regulatory authority over most areas addressed in the plan and the plan relies heavily on voluntary actions by individuals and organizations that the County may be able to collaborate with.”
There is no evidence to support the statement that “Many residents of the County appreciate the vision presented in this plan” — The overwhelming perception of residents is that Tompkins County government is corrupt and that there is no meaningful public participation: and with a new comprehensive plan “vision” that boldly announces where and how everyone should live — “increased intrusion by government into their lives” is anything but a “perception” for Tompkins County residents.
The plan’s thin excuse of policy “guidelines” does little to cloak the ambition that is revealed in the last sentence of their response – Tompkins County government has no intention of allowing any “plan” but their own.
“Efforts to acquaint citizens with this plan which will, by design, touch each and every resident of Tompkins County are pitiful to non-existent. There were 4 meetings attended by a total of 70 individuals out of a Tompkins County population of 101,570.”
“In a survey to critique the TC Plan conducted in the fall of 2013 there were 915 responses of .9% of the county population. Of these, a large number [more than 25%] were from Participation in Government classes in four local high schools. The session with Planning Department officials I attended earlier this month in the TC Library also seemed poorly attended.
This is a laughable attempt at having an informed electorate. Yet, this plan will be voted on nevertheless.”
“Listening to Community Voices describes the considerable efforts to involve the public at three separate stages in preparing the Comprehensive Plan.”
In truth: very little effort was made to involve the public, and their comments and concerns had no impact of any substance on principles and policies already decided upon “in house.” The 915 survey responders did nothing more than choose which of the preselected “topic areas” were preferred [while the Planning Advisory Board made the actual choice] — it was participation on the level of “Do you want to have mac and cheese on Tuesday? Or Wednesday?”
And in what the County describes as “Another major public outreach effort” in the spring of 2014 – a total of “over 70 individuals” attended six meetings. [A pathetic number for any public meeting.]
The County’s Comprehensive Plan states that “the Department sent information and requests for input to a wide variety of email addresses” – but only mentions “local government officials, advisory board members, and previous commenters” — and by posting “information about the public meetings” to the “Department’s Facebook and Twitter accounts” – they would again reach the same limited group already involved.
Comments and questions were solicited at meetings of County advisory boards, Business and economic development groups, Local government groups, and undisclosed “Groups the Department has worked with over the years” — once more gathering input from the county’s power structure.
In spite of the obviously inadequate response from the public; no effort was made in the local media or community outreach to rectify this situation, or to solicit public approval of the Plan’s policy statements.
The legitimacy of Tompkins County’s “LISTENING TO COMMUNITY VOICES” pastiche of public participation is based solely on their own assertions that it is so.
Few residents were even aware that a new comprehensive plan was being prepared — and that was according to plan as well.
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