Interesting perspective and we would like your thoughts.
The citizens of Damascus voted Tuesday night, and the results make clear that the great majority is not happy with the Comprehensive Plan developed to guide the future growth of our city. Whether the voters are displeased with the actual plan, the process by which it was arrived at, the direction it drives our city, or the council and staff who put the plan together, it is now painfully clear that our community does not support the current Comprehensive Plan.
Given that simple truth, it seems unavoidable that some changes are going to be needed to gain the trust, and approval of the people of Damascus. Ultimately, it may be that changes to the plan itself will not be sufficient. At a minimum, this council is going to have to do a far better job of communicating with the citizens than they have to date. The council and staff have spent much time and effort declaring that efforts to involve the citizens were top notch. They regularly wave around the Citizen Involvement Plan, and declare that it was accepted by the state, and has won awards. Missing from that narrative is the simple fact that no plan ever guarantees actual good performance, and this plan is a perfect example of that.
State planning Goal One, requires citizen involvement in all phases of planning for a city. But unlike every other state goal, Goal One is not judged by the results at the end of the process, it is judged by the plan at the beginning. This illustrates very plainly that only lip service is required to meet Goal One, and the Damascus history clearly shows the downside of the current focus on a plan, and no concern about the actual implementation of that plan.
The City Council has been asked time and again to spend more time just having conversations and discussions with the people of Damascus. Until recently, when the Committee for Citizen Involvement basically forced their hand by scheduling a Town Hall without waiting for council to agree, the current and former councils have been extremely reluctant to engage in open, unscripted dialogue with the people. This lack of communication has led our city to where we are now, and either the council will change how they and staff have handled communication, or the current division will worsen, with some very serious consequences for our city. It is time to spend as much effort actually talking to citizens, as the effort that has been put into claiming that they have.
Another critical area of evaluation that is required is whether the city has the right people in place to develop a plan that has the support and approval of the citizens of Damascus. Damascus is the first city in the State of Oregon to develop a plan for a new city. That alone should be enough to indicate that the people working on the plan should be experienced, knowledgeable, and well versed in the communication skills needed to discover the community’s desires and mold those into an acceptable plan. Oregon’s land use process was designed to be applied to the cities that were already in existence when the land use laws were adopted. By definition, the process in Damascus was going to be far different from that, and would by extension, require an even better strategy and plan to guide the work of both the staff and council.
That in-depth, well thought out strategic master plan to guide the process and work of so many people was never done. After a council retreat this year, the new city manager has been forcing the planning department to develop just such a strategic schedule, but the fact that massive amounts of time and money have been expended in a disorganized process should, and must, have consequences.
The lack of such a vital tool clearly shows that the management of the planning department either did not understand the necessity of such plan, or they did not value the resources they were trusted with enough to initiate such a basic concept to avoid wasting both time and treasure.
At a very minimum, the two things discussed here should be evaluated for ways to change the paradigm Damascus is in. The council must initiate and commit to better communication and informational dialogue with the citizens. If people do not feel they have been kept informed and involved, they will react badly. They showed that last night.
Second, and likely more important, changes to the staff are going to be necessary to regain the confidence and trust of the people in the process. Having watched the Ship of Damascus Planning be crashed into the rocks over and over for the last few years, it is time to put someone else behind the wheel. The citizens of Damascus responsibly pay their taxes every year. They should be able to feel confident that those in charge of expending those resources are behaving as responsibly.