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OGC Monster List

Article Index
OGC Monster List
Code Enforcement & CEDO
Meetings and Presentations
General
Website
Other
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I created The Monster List almost entirely from questions emailed to the committee or asked during the public forums of the meetings. I combined some of them and discarded duplicates, then organized them by topic and category. In my opinion, this is by far the most complete representation of concerns voiced by the public on the topic of Open Government in Burlington Vermont.

Download the printer friendly PDF version here

Development:

Notice:

#1 - Slow down moving targets – Whenever changes or additions are submitted to DRB/DAB/P&Z, interested parties, volunteer board members and staff need additional time to review the material, consult with experts, and think about it awhile.  The plan is like a engine – tweak it in one place and there is movement and change throughout the system. This should also have a 15 day consideration period. (Terhune)

#2 - All development projects, especially in residential areas, from the first point of inception, will be posted on the “development” website which will have both an email list and an RSS feed residents will be allowed to sign up for and it will go to NPA Steering Committee Members citywide.  Each project will also have its own email list and RSS feed residents can sign up for to receive updates on the project as it progresses.  (Rooney)

#3 - Notice of local NPA's when any application requiring design review comes in the door. (Stuono)

#4 - Notice of abutting property owners when any application requiring design review comes in the door (not just 10 days before the DRB hearing -- often times people are on vacation or don't have enough time to prepare info). "Abutting property owners" should be expanded to a much wider area besides just adjacent owners.  Something at least three or four properties in all directions at bare minimum should be required.  Many neighbors get no notice, yet projects still affect them substantially.   (Stuono)

#5 - There is currently no public notice of DAB hearings that I know of.  People only learn of them if they check the web site frequently (or P & Z in person).  Projects currently go through two levels of review (initial P & Z analysis and the DAB), before neighbors are even notified of a project.  Oftentimes the early phases of a review process are the most important. (Stuono)

#6 - When notices are sent out, a copy of the application should be sent with them (or at the very least a detailed description and a drawing).  A one-sentence blurb does little to inform a person of the details of the project.  And many people can't get down to P & Z to find detailed info. (Stuono)

#7 - All materials submitted by the applicant should be made available via the web (I believe they are now already scanned in, so putting them on the web should not be difficult), and this indicated on notices. (Stuono)

#8 - All commercial projects and multi-unit residential ones must be given NPA notice across all the Wards.  OK to do this through email, but address lists must be kept current. (Stuono)

#9 - "Interested party" should be defined broadly, especially with issues that have implications for the city at large. Whole neighborhoods have interests as well.  Neighbors should be informed by mail about a proposed project in their area.
Parties may be both self-interested and civic-minded. Don't assume we don't want what's best for the city. Don't automatically believe what the insiders are telling you.  They have a self-interest, too, and they are not always truthful. (McGrew)


Code Enforcement:

#1 - Using respectful, neutral words to describe the action and the resident, like report and person who filed the report,  instead of complaint and complainant, is appropriate for a neutral fact-finding civic process. A resident-friendly, educational and lawful process would work like this:
The action of a resident reporting a possible municipal code violation should not be called COMPLAINT by a COMPLAINANT. We are, after all, exhibiting civic responsibility when we alert CE to a possible violation of the Municipal Code. Or, to say it another way, when the enjoyment of our property is infringed upon by a neighbor's violation of the Municipal Code, we appeal to CE for relief.  So contact with CE is a REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION regarding a REPORTED MUNICIPAL CODE ISSUE and the person who brings the issue to the attention of CE is making a request for investigation, reporting a possible violation. Using a respectful, neutral word to desscribe the action, like REPORT, and referring to the person as the REPORTER, establishes a neutral fact-finding process. A resident reports a possible Municipal Code violation, and requests both a site investigation and review of the issue relative to the Municipal Code.

A - Person submits a REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION  in person,  by phone, via on-line communication.
B - CE acknowledges the REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION  with reference to applicable section of Municipal Code, and provides information about Code and Protocol.  
B1 - If Municipal Code does not apply, the REPORTER is informed that there is no basis for action and why, and where/how to Appeal if not satisfied.
B2 - If Municipal Code applies, CE would perform an INVESTIGATION, make a site visit, interviews parties involved, then issues a DETERMINATION based on the Municipal Code. The REPORTER receives a clear statement of the investigator's findings, area/s of the Municipal Code that apply, action that will be taken, and the Appeal Process. (Terhune)

#2 - Change town clerk policy so that a permanent Zoning CO is required before issuing title on new units, thus putting accountability back where it belongs -  on the original permittees and developers. (Papp)

CEDO:

#1 - The public has a right to know all projects that CEDO is working on, and their current status from inception to completion.  This can be maintained via a web page. (Stuono)


Meetings & Presentations:

#1 - Equal time for public in meetings. Now public has a limited time to testify, while developers and administrators are called to answer questions and lobby for a position during the meeting. The public should have a chance to respond in kind during the meeting. (McGrew)

#2 - Break presentation by applicant into small parts during DRB/DAB/P&Z meetings, and allow comment from board and interested parties after each part.  Presently, applicant presents and interested parties have to sit through the whole thing, then they are permitted to speak once and asked not repeat. It is the end of the meeting, some people have left already, people are tired, everyone wants to go home – it's not a hospitable context for comments to be heard and carefully considered. Some applicants save their best arguments for last, because they know the public has no redress at that time and can no longer offer testimony or repudiate any comments they make.  (Terhune/Stuono)

#3 - When applicant presents, must make visuals available to live and Ch17 audience. Discourage presenters from turning their back on audience or camera, or from referring to materials that audience does not have access to. Hearing Assistance equipment and microphones are very much appreciated. (Terhune)

#4 - Accurate photographs and visualizations of all projects, along with same-scale images of adjoining properties, must be submitted with applications so parties and board members can make proper comparisons. It is not uncommon for applicants to intentionally submit out-of-scale, unattractive, or unbuildable projects first, then submit updated plans at the last minute to attempt to show how they've "compromised" or "listened to the neighbors". It is not proper process for the DRB to see plans of projects that are no longer being considered. (Stuono)

#5 - Plans should not be allowed to be modified at the last minute by the applicant. Any change in size, height, or square footage should require starting the process again, unless the change is directly mandated at a public DAB/DRB hearing by the board. If an applicant cancels a hearing at the last minute (three business days), there must be a penalty.  Any appeal on this provision must be vetted to the Council.  This tactic repeatedly thwarts public input.  There also must be penalties for misrepresenting information, especially under, as well as a procedure for individuals to show when this occurs.

#6 - There should be no closed-door negotiating sessions between Planning and Zoning Staff and applicants or developers.  While the City attorney's work may involve confidentiality, Planning and Zoning staff should not.  This puts the staff members in an awkward position.  All City operations as a rule should be public, unless specifically mandated that it cannot be for sound and justifiable reasons. (Stuono)

#7 - Scoping Meetings for Planning-Related Projects & Studies-
The primary problem is that for virtually every major planning project or study there seems to be a different approach to public participation -- and these differences, which may well make sense for each project, are not well-explained at the start of a project.

The purpose of the scoping meeting -- which, of course, should be well-advertised -- could include:
-- the department explaining the purpose of the project.
-- the department's initial plan for public participation in the project.
-- the expected project time-line.
-- and most important, plenty of time at the scoping meeting for public feedback and ideas. Indeed, scoping meetings should be designed to provide feedback to help ensure that the project, before it is well-underway, will be responsive to public concerns. In light of this, it might make sense for scoping meetings to be facilitated/moderated by someone independent of the involved department.
-- the department managing the project should also provide notice of the scoping meeting to each of the city's Neighborhood Planning Assemblies and offer to attend a meeting of any NPA that wants to hear a summary of the project.

I believe uniform guidelines for scoping meetings could be established by the City Council, again, applicable to all planning-related projects regardless of which city department is undertaking the project.

Following a scoping meeting, the department should formalize its public participation plan for the project or study, and post this on the city's web site, and keep it up-to-date. Ideally, each project/study -- again regardless of which department is managing the project -- would have its own web page where the public participation plan for the project would be posted, as well as copies of minutes and/or agendas from project-related meetings (e.g., if an advisory committee is set up for the project) as well as other project documents (e.g., drafts of the plan or study as it proceeds). (Senville)


General:

#1 - All correspondence between meetings must be made available to interested parties before the meeting.  When the applicant has exchanged information with P&Z staff, or with board members via staff, interested parties are disadvantaged by not having knowledge of this. (Terhune)

#2 - NNE Ward4 and Ward7 need representation on all boards regarding development issues. We have heavy development pressures in the NNE, and no representation on the key review boards – Conservation, Design Review and Development Review.(Terhune)


Website:

Notice:

#1 - If a City open meeting is not disseminated to the appropriate email list, RSS feed and website with its complete agenda and all associated documents that are to be discussed or presented at the meeting one week before the meeting is scheduled, the meeting will be postponed.  This includes Boards, Commissions and the City Council.  (Rooney)

#2 - All government meetings need to be listed on the web site at least 10 days in advance, and detailed agendas posted at the same time.  No scheduling changes can be made without an additional 7 days warning.  (Stuono)

Records:

#1 - Meeting minutes should be taken by unbiased 3rd party (preferably a trained court recorder) to do the transcript, and posted on-line via web in a timely fashion (within 24 hours preferably, and within a few days essential).  There has been repeated criticism that meeting minutes are often inaccurate, and taken by staff or Board who seem to show bias.  There must also be a provision for the public to review and challenge these minutes, as these minutes are used for various Board and Council decisions. (Stuono)

#2 - Minutes, Agendas and all other documents that are currently posted on the website in MS Word format should be placed in a searchable database instead. This will allow users to more easily search and view the contents of these items. (McIntyre)

Options:

#1 - Each section of the website (City Hall, CEDO, DPW, etc) should be clearly identifiable and easy to navigate from one section to another. (McIntyre)

#2 - RSS Feeds and Mailing List options should be available for every department, commission, board and council. (McIntyre)

#3 - a public advisory committee be established to provide input on just what kinds of information and format would be most useful to have online (or this input could be provided through the Open Government Committee, if this Committee is continued -- see my next recommendation). Perhaps some public survey/questionnaire would also be helpful. (Senville)


Other:

City Council:

#1 - Roll call voting should be used for all resolutions, amendments and commission/board appointments and the results should be clearly listed on the city's website. (McIntyre)

#2 - To help the City Council conduct its business while residents and its members are still fully alert, limit City Councilors to three minutes on any topic in the first round of discussion and then allow them to continue in subsequent rounds only as long as at least three Councilors want to continue discussing it. This is a modification of Council rules and it should help Councilors at least as much as residents. Ideas, thoughts, and possible solutions come up for the public during a session debate, not just by Councilors.  It will also encourage people to stay later at Council meetings and participate in our governmental process. (Rooney/Stuono)

#3 - Council Packets must be made available to public before session, and preferably on-line, days in advance. (Stuono)

#4 - Council Executive sessions: More detail needs to be made publicly available on these, especially on topics well before the Council session.  It must be proven to show why a subject must be done in Executive Session.  Nevertheless, votes should be public, and as much of the actual debate as possible.  Executive sessions as a rule should be used only when a strong and clear reason for doing so exists, and time in executive session must be kept to a minimum.  More stringent rules on executive sessions should be adopted.  City Councilors should be allowed to relay information from executive sessions after the fact, if decisions are made. (Stuono)

Board Appointments:

#1 - All Board and Commission nominees will be interviewed by the City Council in public and voted upon individually in public with a voice vote.  This could happen at a City Council Meeting or at a separately held Board and Commission nomination meeting duly warned, given the press of business to be handled at the City Council Meetings. (Rooney)

#2 - Openings should be advertised at least two weeks ahead of time to recruit the most qualified applicants. (Stuono)

#3 - Thought should be given to have fair representation of most Wards. (Stuono)

#4 - All applicants names should be publicly known, and their applications publicly available prior to Council. (Stuono)

#5 - Council should vote on applicants individually. It's OK for the Council to discuss the individuals in private, but voting should be public.  It's important for people to know who supported whom. (Stuono)

#6 - Board terms of length should be reduced (what are they now, one year?).  Re-appointment not automatic, as it is currently viewed.  An analysis of member’s past contribution should be done each time.  Some Board members appear to contribute little, are frequently unprepared, and simply show up to vote (or not show up at all). (Stuono)

Government Meetings:

#1 - Equal time for public in meetings. Now public has a limited time to testify, while developers and administrators are called to answer questions and lobby for a position during the meeting. The public should have a chance to respond in kind during the meeting. (McGrew)

#2 - Controversial, high public interest items taken up first, not last. (McGrew)

#3 - "Interested party" should be defined broadly, especially with issues that have implications for the city at large. Whole neighborhoods have interests as well.  Neighbors should be informed by mail about a proposed project in their area.
Parties may be both self-interested and civic-minded. Don't assume we don't want what's best for the city. Don't automatically believe what the insiders are telling you.  They have a self-interest, too, and they are not always truthful. (McGrew)

#4 - All government meetings, including committee meetings, should be video-recorded and broadcast, if at all possible:  rooms in City Hall can be easily permanently wired for this, if not already done so.  One can have a fixed camera/mikes if needed.  While quality of the recording is important (i.e. hiring CCTV to do this), it's more important to just have adequate record keeping of the proceeding.  It doesn't have to be super-polished at the onset.  We will improve this as we go. (Stuono)

#5 - Government meetings should have standardized rooms: the constant switching of rooms thwarts public input. Oftentimes rooms are also too small to accommodate public.  Do you know that many people have tried to find Board meetings and thought they were cancelled when they couldn’t find them, then went home, when instead the meetings  were moved to the library?  Do you know that the library front doors are closed and locked and many people couldn't get in to recent meetings?  Do you know that one recent DRB meeting in the P & Z office had too many people to get in the room, and many residents then just left? (Stuono)

General:

#1 - In public testimony, all Commission, Board, and City Council members should give the speaker their full attention.  Allow two way conversations, so questions could be asked of the speakers, if at all possible. This should be looked at as a time of "discovery”.  I've seen some committees do this procedure quite well at times.  Train all members to handle this method effectively -- it can work! (Stuono)

#2 - There should me more stringent disclosure of all conflict-of-interest issues with City Councilors, board members, and City personnel.  In addition, enhanced laws need to be on the books in regards to this area, as well as specifying exactly what is allowable. (Stuono)

#3 - There should be an independent City Ombudsman whose sole job would be to hear problems that the public is having with any City department, commission, officer, etc. This Ombudsman would have the authority to fully investigate any complaint, even to the point of requesting a special investigator, and to issue a public report on their findings. (Stuono)

#4 - No City employee should be allowed to use their office or authority to publicly campaign for or against any candidate for public office. (Stuono)

#5 - While it is good to "promote from within", top management positions should have open recruitment to get the best qualified candidate.  Should there be a reason not to do so, it must be decided by the Council after strong argument showing very highly qualified internal candidates (i.e., the Police Chief interviews), and the public should be permitted input. (Stuono)

OGC:

#1 -  I see value in maintaining an Open Government Committee, meeting regularly, at least for the near future. If this is done, I would suggest that the City Council and Administration set up a process for appointing (or re-appointing) members of the Committee, with participation from each of the NPAs. Having an Open Government Committee continue would help ensure both that any public participation recommendations will more likely be implemented, and also allow for additional public input as other issues/concerns come up. (Senville)


Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 January 2010 01:56  

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