Session 5, May 27
What's It All About, Alphie?
by Doug Loudenback
The concluding sessions of the Let's Talk Transit
public meetings occurred twice today in the City Council Chambers — a noonish session beginning at 11:30 am and an evening session beginning at 6:00 pm which is the session that I attended. I didn't take a head count but I'd suppose that 30-35 people were present, including staff and the presenters. You can see for yourself that the meeting was not elbow-to-elbow, but the attendance was not out of keeping from the earlier sessions, even if down from the number attending the working-group sessions. Click on most images in this article for larger views.
The first part of the meeting consisted of recaps of the previous meetings presented by Rick Cain
, director of COTPA and Mike McAnelly
with Jacobs Engineering of Dallas (and, as always, Jennifer Eve
was the effervescent master of ceremonies). That said, nothing new was presented during this part ... it was just a recapitulation of what had been done and said before.
McAnelly then reviewed the three models submitted for discussion in this session. He described them with reservation — that they were by no means set in stone. More, when he described how these models derived from previous sessions, he postured them as being models which were designed to produce and provoke discussion. He took care to say that these models were not necessarily those which would later be presented to the MAPS 3 Oversight Board — at least, not in the sense of being "preferred routes" resulting from the Let's Talk Transit
process. I'll say more about this in the Analysis section, below.
McAnelly Discusses The Three Proforma Options
The three options were presented thusly (click on images for a larger view):
Were these options representative of what the public input had been?
Let's do a flashback to Session #2 ... six groups, sitting at tables 1 through 6, had been assigned the task of coming up with proposed routes, with each table charged to present the perspectives of three different segments of downtown streetcar users, downtown visitors, residents, and employers and employees.
Let's Talk Transit
assembled a composite map shown at session #3, shown below.
Notice that 4 of the 6 (that's 66%) arrived at drawings showing Walker as a preferred route regardless of the streetcar user group they were charged with representing (visitors, residents, workers). But, notice, also, that Walker was not included as a preferred route in any of the three proforma options presented at today's meeting.
I'll get back to that point in the Analysis section below.
After Mr. McAnelly's presentation, a lengthy question and answer session followed. In fact, the meeting which was scheduled to end at 7:30 did not adjourn until at or shortly after 8 pm.
Most questioners followed the ground rules and wrote their questions on the forms presented — some others didn't and merely raised their hands and had their questions fielded on-the-fly. The meeting handlers weren't all that great about handling the flow of questions since some, who followed the rules, probably didn't get their questions answered because of the line-cutter-inners which were permitted to co-opt their legitimate place in line. Not a biggie, but it was nonetheless an irritant to me — if rules are established, damn it, follow them, and don't let others who didn't do so effectively cut in line with their non-form questions receiving priority attention.
I didn't make notes as all these questions and answers were being presented, partly because I was aware that ALL written questions would be addressed shortly in the Questions & Answers part of Let's Talk Transit website
, just as they have before. The questions were plentiful and, I thought, they were answered straightforwardly during this session. When the Q & A is published at the Let's Talk Transit
website, I'll include a link to them here. The Q & A session was substantial enough that the planned 7:30 p.m. end of meeting did not occur until about 30 minutes later and even then the presenters hung around to answer additional questions from any who wanted to ask, me included.
Since this was the final Let's Talk Transit
public meeting, my analysis focuses on two items in terms of recap: (1) Did the Let's Talk Transit people do a good job? (2) Were my concerns about the meaningfulness of these sessions addressed, and, if so, how and why?
Review of My Previous Reservations.
- Let's Talk Transit Gets 5 Stars. Did the Let's Talk Transit people do a good job? Absolutely yes, in my opinion. All those involved in the COTPA organization, including Rick Cain, Larry Hopper, and Michael Scroggins (as well as any other COTPA people that I've not thought to mention), moderator Jennifer Eve, and certainly consultant Mike McAnelly, as well as those in the city's planning staff who were sometimes involved, did a heck of a job in putting these meetings together as well as maintaining a very useful Let's Talk Transit website which is available to anyone who did not attend the meetings. Hundreds of hours, and not just a few bucks, were clearly expended in making this series of meetings happen, and all involved were helpful, courteous, informative, and patient throughout the lengthy process. Those involved in organizing and executing this process get my highest praise and respect.
- Was The Process Meaningful and not just window-dressing? Yes, with no qualifiation as to Let's Talk Transit, but this opinion wasn't as easily formed as the above. I'll explain:
It is only fair that I begin this section by giving an explanation for my caution in being concerned that the public input which was clearly allowed for, even cajoled and encouraged, by the COTPA and city staffers might not actually matter one way or another. Quite simply, the reason has to do with events leading to the MAPS 3 vote when the public was told similar things — starting with Mayor Cornett's promise in his May 13, 2009, Roundtable meeting that public forums or opportunities would occur before the matters were decided for residents to tell city leaders what they want to see on the ballot — which public forums or opportunities never materialized ... the saying, "trick me once, shame on you; trick me twice, shame on me," comes to mind. I won't even get into the Convention Center's possible location which we were and are told hasn't yet been decided. As for the MAPS 3 campaign itself, although many like myself strongly supported MAPS 3, for some, like me, that support existed notwithstanding the obvious conflict of interest that existed the campaign being headed up by David Thompson, publisher of the Oklahoman
and the censuring of his own employees, Oklahoman
journalists, during the campaign as to what they could report and how the reporting was to occur. This is the short version of how I came to be cautious, yes, jaded, about believing what I was told by city leadership. The fact is that during 2009 my willingness to accept what I was told by city officials as being necessarily sincere came to be tempered by a mineral that had not been there before — jade.
When top city leaders give cause for distrust, it has a spillover, a trickle-down, effect, at least it did for me. And so it was that, when the Let's Talk Transit
process began, I wondered out loud in my columns here whether the promised public input really mattered or whether it was merely window trimming for matters already decided or which would come to be decided regardless of public input. In this context, although I'd experienced excellent meetings during the Let's Talk Transit
process, I continued to wonder if all of fine public participation really mattered.
Part of that wonder had to do with the route scenarios presented at this meeting. Notice the omission of Walker in any of the three proforma route scenarios, shown above. If 4 of the 6 working groups indicated such a preference, and if public input really mattered, why was it not included in at least one of the presented possibilities?
To answer that question, let me digress a bit. I arrived at the meeting early and had an opportunity to chat with with Messrs. Mike McAnelly, Rick Cain, and Michael Scroggins. I mentioned to Michael that, if he'd read what I've previously written he might have noticed that an underlying concern I had was whether the public input gathered from the Let's Talk Transit
process would really matter when routes were finally determined, and that I was hoping to hear something in this last meeting that would allay my concern. His good-natured reply was, to the effect, "Well, if the meetings don't take public input into account in arriving at routes, we've (he and COTPA's staff) surely have been wasting a lot of time," but, of course, that answer begs the question. Without any doubt, COTPA and its staff, as well as those in the city planning department, have expended lots of time and money putting these excellent sessions together. But, the question remained, "to what end?"
My distrust was soothed a bit during McAnelly's presentation. He made it clear that everything
presented during the sessions would be presented to the Oversight Committee, the next step in the process, including the routes submitted by all groups, including that a 2/3 majority of those favored that Walker be included. But, the question lingered, why hadn't Walker included in the proforma scenarios?
After the meeting, a final opportunity to talk with him occurred. After Steve Lackmeyer asked McAnelly several questions, I got my turn. I had written my question on one of those cards that didn't have time to get answered (thanks to those who circumvented the written question approach), and here was my chance, face to face. I've forgotten how the written question was literally worded, but the gist, and my oral question, and the rest of the conversation, came out something like this:
Loudenback: We are told that public input is helping shape the placement of the streetcar routes. Given that, can you give one example of a route that would most probably NOT have been included but which was as a result of the public sessions? I understand that this is sort of a convoluted question, but do you get my drift? I guess that I'm saying, "Prove it." McAnelly: I understand what you are saying. The example is probably Walker — it would probably not have been included in the routes. Loudenback: But Walker is not included in any of the three models. McAnelly: That was a mistake and it was probably my fault. That a majority favor Walker will be shown as a public preference.
Without-a-blink straightforward honesty and integrity will win me over anytime, anyplace. With that, my concerns, above expressed, were dashed, and I am exceptionally pleased to say that I have no lingering doubts about Let's Talk Transit's
stated intentions as being true. Trust is an earned thing, and, in Let's Talk Transit
, I am satisfied that the trust is deserved.
My final comment and additional hope:
Perhaps the good will engendered by Let's Talk Transit
will have a trickle-up effect
, as well.
Fri, May 28, 2010
by Doug Loudenback