Sunday, February 18, 2007

Buy the Book

One thing you will discover if you do much research on issues is that there is a tremendous amount of paper involved. The introduction of the computer into government and business has had an unintended result: We are creating more documents today then ever, and they are getting bigger. Lets take a look at some of the paper involved in the Capital Improvement Plan being developed.

The CIP will a number of sections detailing needs and justifications. These, in turn, will reflect what is in the city's Comprehensive Plan. This is a very large document that coordinates all other planning. It is both the starting point and the executive summary of a number of other plans.

One of these other plans is the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan. This is a 250+ page study plus a large update on what recreation and parks should look like here in the future. This report plus updates cost the city a lot of money, and is only available on paper. There is so much there I doubt many people outside of the parks and recreation department know more about it than the power point slide show that was presented by the consultant who developed the plan. As far as this type of plan goes, it seems to be pretty good, but there are some concerns.

Our paid consultants started with guidelines from the National Recreation and Parks Association. They then did local surveys, polls, and focus groups to fine tune and prioritize the results. A bit of fine tuning, include lists, charts maps of parks and and proposed sites, eight by ten color glossies with circles and arrows and they had a completed plan. So where is the problem.

First off, I find the NRPA guidelines a bit too generic. They start with a plan developed by Kansas City, and then expand it to fit San Angelo and New York City. I will grant you that the hope is that a consultant will really treat each study as unique, but reality, time and money have a way of interfering with that. What most of these reports end up being is a list of about 2 dozen one size fits all sports and recreation activities in the order of their popularity on the last poll and a list of possible sites. They include cost estimates for each.

The problem I have is that we end up with a list with some odd resources on it (do we really need a city owned Ice Rink?) We also see no mention of many locally popular recreations (No, I am not going to mention Mr. Ryans professional Billiard Hall.)

The other problem is that we see project appear on various plans just because some consultant said you should have one so you can keep with New York City, even though the money could be better spent on water, roads, sewer, or even recreations that might stimulate the city.

The unintended consequence of the ease with which computers allow reports and plans to be generated is there are now so many of them, and they are so thick that it is almost impossible to know what is in them. You do have to be careful that some project doesn't sneak onto the budget just because is was one page in a large plan that nobody had time to read.


  1. I remember an old Travis McGee novel in which Travis is being advised by his techno-savvy friend. "Don't try to hide, that really doesn't work anymore. Cooperate fully and then some. Not only show up on the radar screen, generate so much chaff you snow it out. Chances are they'll never catch the important parts."

    I saw this when I intervened in a WTU case before the Utilities Commission. WTU hid nothing, in fact my opening package was 18 linear bookshelf feet, with 2-300 pages a day coming in from one or another of 17 intervenors. I was the only pro se intervenor, got pats on the back from a roomful of $500 suits at one ALJ hearing because I had caught something they had all missed.

    Detail is all, and there is no substitute for sheer determination and time to find the needles in the haystacks. All I can promise is the needles are usually there.

  2. Please take heed city officials. Must we throw out millions in tax revenues to "expert" consultants with no real interests in our community? Can we not manage to manage our own affairs? Do we really need to pay out the wazoo for social engineers
    to hold our watches and tell us what time it is?

    Let the people of this community decide what kind of technology to use at the ballot box, let the people of this community decide if they want a nuclear power plant or a prison complex or new schools, give the people of this community the opportunity to interface with elected officials to design and construct public spaces --- this is the meaning of COMMUNITY.

    We, "the people" should be involved in and a part of "the process" - not some high priced consultants from another area. We must put an end to government that believes it exisits to exploit the general public in order to increase its own spending power.

    Take a look at California where the median property values in some cities went from $90,000 to $400,000 in a matter of 10 years - why are we following their growth model? Why are we hiring the same "experts" that give elaborate and genereic plans that lead us one step further to the same end?

    It is time for San Angelo to boldy move in the opposite direction that most municipalities seem to be going in as they are being led astray by the swindling "Experts," and the allure of more tax dollars.

    Let's cut the ties that bind and build our own city with honesty, integrity, and home grown ingenuity. Then hopefully we won't have to worry about the fine print.