Improving Public Participation
Boulder is very fortunate to have a richness of engaged and informed citizens. We have a knowledgeable community, and if I’m elected I will promote ways to better utilize this phenomenal community resource.
Boulder doesn’t suffer from a lack of engagement and input. But the City needs to significantly improve how, and when, it uses and incorporates that input.
By “how,” I mean that City decisions and policies should reflect the will of the people. This means that public input should be relegated to a much higher level of prioritization. If elected, I will never forget that I’m on Council to serve the people. Therefore, public input will be the largest guiding principal in my decision making.
By “when,” I mean that the City needs to include citizens much earlier in the process, before plans become fully baked. I really get it, when residents tell me they feel like “window dressing” – brought in at the end of a process, when in reality it’s too late to make any real difference.
So I fully support the findings and recommendations of the outstanding citizen Public Participation Working Group. They worked for a year to study the issue, and make recommendations to the City.
As I read their report, many sections jumped out at me:
“Some perceive that policy makers or staff have already determined outcomes before the public is consulted, yet they are asked to participate anyway.”
“Participants in public processes do not always know how or if their ideas have been heard, considered or used as plans and policies are developed.”
“It is sometimes unclear whether the City acts as a neutral third party or is vested in a particular outcome.”
“Information can be difficult to access. The City website can be difficult to navigate.” (I’ve heard this from a lot of residents.)
“There is frequently a lack of diversity and balance of viewpoints (on City boards, commissions, and working groups), which makes it challenges for the groups to reflect community demographics. While this is an appearance of transparency, there is a perception that choices are made during back room discussions.”
“By the time the public is engaged, issues may already be framed in positional terms of FOR and AGAINST, which polarizes public input. Creative problems solving and bridge building are therefore compromised….”
“(Public hearings) occur late in the process, typically just before Council votes on an issue, instead of during the formative stages.”
“The public, staff and City Council are trying to deal with so many issues at once that deliberation and decisions can be rushed. It can be difficult for anyone…to follow the process.”
These are very real and valid issues. That’s why I’ve made Improving Public Process (and how and when the City incorporates it) a cornerstone of my campaign.