Madison: Some Smoozing, No Snoozing.

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

At least, not much snoozing as participants have reported on local ‘blog

I appreciate the time and effort Mark Chilton, Gene Pease, Fred Black and Dan Coleman put into real-time reviews.

I hope some of our other “known” blog commenters (Anita, Linda, Aaron, Andrea, Diane ?) get in to the act.

[UPDATE:] Anita and Frances Henderson joined in.

Chancellor Moeser’s “Freelance dissenters”

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Freelance dissenters?

What an odd turn of phrase, Chancellor Moeser.

From today’s soon to evaporate HeraldSun, a story from the Madison smoozefest.

Alan Fish, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s (UWM) associate vice chancellor for facilities planning and management, describing UWM’s “Good Neighbor” policy:

In many instances, the university now goes to residents to talk before it even begins to design a project, Fish said. It sometimes negotiates detailed “memorandums of understanding” with the joint committees, so that the neighbors have spelled out critical concerns before the elected board votes on the project.

“These things are very difficult to do, and everybody has to engage in the process,” Fish noted.

Eleven years ago, UWM was the 1,000 pound badger arrogantly siting new development over existing neighborhoods. Sound familiar? That’s what UNC’s current administration has done, for instance, to the Mason Farm Rd. neighborhoods. Unlike the Moeser administrations historical track-record of creating faux community outreach groups, Madison’s community-university committees sound quite democratic.

Participant Gene Pease reports over on OrangePolitics that “the committees have town appointed neighborhood representatives, city council members, and university representitives. Once it passes this committee, it appears most projects get approved rather smoothly.”

The HeraldSun’s Rob Shapard reports Moeser liked what he heard:

The committees caught the ear of UNC Chancellor James Moeser, who said it sounded to him like a way to get key issues and possible solutions on the table early, so that “freelance dissenters” couldn’t derail a project late in the process. Therefore, he said, “The person with the loudest voice who complains isn’t able to override a constituted process that’s really representative.”

How could honest dissent be anything but freelance?

Historically UNC’s Board of Trustee’s (BOT) have derailed more university-community commitments on development than any other local entity.

I wonder if Moeser thinks “appointed” (UNC’s Board of Trustees) or “salaried” (UNC’s administrators) dissent is qualitatively better?

Madison Smoozefest: The Cost of Aaron Nelson’s Brickless Breakfast

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

The Chapel Hill News (CHN) just posted Lisa Hoppenjans’ initial article on the Madison trip (Lisa is one of three reporters bird-dogging the event).

Aaron Nelson once again weighs in on the importance of building personal relationships amongst the delegation:

“There’s certainly room to improve the quality and tenor of communication when we are in disagreement. When you have breakfast with somebody, it changes the nature of the relationship,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t change your disagreement. It just means you’re more likely to talk about it before you throw a brick.”

How much will that brickless breakfast cost?

With a few more details and “facts” than the HeraldSun article, the CHN provides the following nice breakdown of governmental expenditures:

Money spent so far by local governments to send public employees and elected officials to Madison, including airfare, ground transportation, hotel rooms and most meals.

Chapel Hill…………………….. $11,805
Orange County…………………..$5,588

The $26,803 doesn’t account for the nearly 20 UNC employees (at $1100-$1300 a pop). While the CHN mentions the $26,803 is the cost after the organizers “scholarship award” reductions, it doesn’t list who got the discounts. I’m interested. Maybe the organizers, in the spirit of transparency, will publish the complete breakdown of who paid out-of-pocket, who used institutional funds and who surfed on the public’s largesse.

Included is a funny recollection by former Chapel Hill Mayor (and my neighbor) Jonathon Howes’ of the power of a similar trip:

Former Chapel Hill Mayor Jonathan Howes went on several of the Public-Private Partnership trips. Howes, now at UNC as special assistant to the chancellor for local government relations, said things residents see now in Chapel Hill were specifically influenced by those trips.

The idea for the Downtown Commission, which has evolved into the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, came from what a similar group of participants learned about in Boulder, he said.

Well, that trip to Boulder was over 25 years ago and not all the folks on 1991’s Council were happy about it.

Council Member Andresen inquired about the Town’s annual membership dues to the Public-Private Partnership. Council Member Werner said approximately $1,200. Mayor Howes stated that the Public-Private Partnership was an organization composed of community leaders, serving as a forum for discussion of ideas of mutual interest. Council Member Werner expressed concern that it was not a Council-wide decision to join the Public-Private Partnership. Mayor Howes said that specific information on memberships was outlined in budget detail information. Council Member Andresen suggested that Council Members provide reports on the out-of-town public official trips in the future. Council Member Herzenberg noted that a full report had been made on the PPP’s trip to Boulder, Colorado. Council Member Andresen said that decisions concerning memberships such as the PPP should be made in a more open manner. Mayor Howes said that if the PPP took any future trips, the Council might wish to consider a resolution on funding and related matters.

The actual evolution was: Downtown Commission (strangled by Mayor Foy’s lead to defund), the unfortunately acronymed Downtown Economic Development Corporation (DEDC/”dead sea”) and, now, the Downtown Partnership (DPC).

Though quite effective sponsoring downtown events, handling recycling, sprucing up Franklin St. the Downtown Commission hit a bump when they endorsed a draconian panhandling ordinance (and produced the interesting 2002 Kaufman report on downtown’s homeless “feeding frenzy of bars, casual restaurants and tourist/university gifts”).

The DEDC, much more University oriented, hit a major bump, including the principled resignation of their chairman – attorney and former officeholder – Bob Epting, when they insisted on carrying out the public’s business behind closed doors.

The DPC, under Liz Parham, has done a much better job. Excepting some inherited issues with 501c3 status/conflict of interest, the DPC, more than a couple decades after the Boulder trip, is living up to its promise.

May the flowers of Madison bloom somewhat more quickly.

Madison Smoozefest: Aaron Nelson’s “Phone Call”

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

Fred, one of the Madison attendees, over on OrangePolitics said he didn’t like my suggestion, given the organizer’s professed desire to “build relationships” – establish “synergies” amongst the group, that, for a few folks, there was a bit more to the Madison trip than simple learning or altruistic desire.

Chamber of Commerce director and trip sponsor Aaron Nelson pegs it pretty well: “”You get to spend a lot more time with each other,” Nelson said. “And there’s something really important about the shared experience.”

“The second reason is to build relationships among our community leaders,” Nelson added. “The hope is that when you get back, and you have an issue you need help with, you can pick up the phone and call the guy you sat next to on the plane for four hours.

Once again, as we see from today’s soon to evaporate HeraldSun, the “shared experience” (smoozing) was of driving importance to the organizers of this event.

Now, of course, other attendees have different primary goals: inclusionary zoning, how a university building a research park deals fairly and honestly with neighborhoods, downtown economic development – even panhandling.

Again, we have a great crew attending. I fully expect the time, effort and more than $100,000 spent on this trip to yield benefits for our community.

But let us not pretend that Aaron Nelson’s “phone call” isn’t part of the calculus of the Madison event.

Whether that “phone call” benefits the community, as I imagine one between Mike Collins of Neighborhoods for Responsible Growth (NRG) and UNC’s Chancellor Moeser might, or not, will be measured in time.

Madison Smoozefest or Chapel Hill’s Sleazefest?

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

Smoozefest or snoozefest, either way this weekend’s (Sept. 24th-26th [correction]) trip to Madison by our local “usual suspects” appears to be more about building relationships at home than abroad.

Most of all, this trip is about building relationships. Not only will participants gain knowledge of what has worked and what has not worked in Madison, but a synergy will be created by our trip attendees working, traveling and discussing issues together.

This trip is not a place for any decisions to be made about our future, but rather a place to make connections and gather valuable information. Learning from the perspectives and ideas of other leaders in the community will help to ensure that our community grows and sustains itself.

LTE to CHN from Mariana Fiorentino,
Chair of the Trip Planning Committee and 2004’s Realtor of the Year


Maybe joyous, interesting and possibly rewarding (or not), I hope folks aren’t going expecting to later trade upon the stronger bonds Smoozefest is supposed to engender.

Even as national scenes of “Ney Money Go” spawned by Abramoff’s scandalous behavior continue, the lure of the private/public “business” junket cannot be diminished.

And “business”, local business, forms the continuous sub-text of this jaunt.

The purpose of the Intercity Visit and Leadership Conference is to convene leaders of the Chapel Hill and Carrboro community to learn from the experiences of another successful community and to build relationships among participants that will help us successfully address our community’s challenges and opportunities.




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