CityWatch, Jan 13, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 4
Fresh on the heels of last weeks City Council brouhaha over the Department of Transportation's failure to conduct appropriate community outreach, the DOT has … surprise … stepped up and announced that it is developing a Memorandum of Understanding "to be signed by the Department and willing neighborhood councils."
While the DOT's willingness to enter into a relationship with the neighborhood councils is to be applauded, there is no better time than now to point out that the best place to start is not a rehash of an old document designed to accommodate a different concept but at the beginning.
The email that went out on Friday to the City Council offices and NC Chairs contained a "Draft MOU" and instructions on how to email suggestions and comments. It appears the DOT has already begun and it's up to the public to catch up. It also appears that they want to negotiate the agreement by email and public hearings as opposed to at the table where the DWP MOU and the Planning/NC Pilot Program were created as partnership projects.
Neighborhood Councils have had both good and bad experiences developing MOU's and it would be a shame not to learn from the past. Best practices include having a neutral moderator facilitate the process and to start by having representatives from both parties come together to hammer out a framework of an MOU as a starting point.
It's important here to acknowledge the DOT's willingness to engage but to also point out that this is a significant step. It's not simply a curb cut or a crosswalk with a 60-day period for public comment and then DOT authority to continue on the journey. This is a document that memorializes and codifies a relationship and the mechanism for communicating and working together. It's a living breathing document with opportunities for revision and adjustment, just like any good relationship.
That is why we must be in on the process from the beginning, not as spectators, not as passive witnesses, not as “inputers,” but as equal participants in the development of a relationship.
It's been three years since the USC research folks, headed by Dr. Terry Cooper, facilitated the original DOT/NC MOU. The one that had so much trouble finding favor with Gloria Jeff, who managed the department at the time.
And it has been months since the Neighborhoods and Education Committee last called on current GM Rita Robinson to develop a report on the development of an MOU. Through it all, Neighborhood Council leaders have been clamoring and lobbying for an MOU.
It’s refreshing and encouraging to see movement from the Department, but this is an important agreement and it will influence an important relationship for some time into the future. It needs to be done right. Robinson and her liaison need to sit with people outside of the halls of the city to get a clearer and more objective perspective on the best way to make this important MOU happen.
(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch.)