On Public Works and other meetings

I went to the Public Works Standing Committee meeting yesterday primarily because I thought there wasn’t going to be a lot of media coverage, and also because I’ve come to feel that the regular City Council meeting is about the least important meeting on any week’s docket.

Take Public Works; there were a lot of people attending the meeting, either because they’d gotten a notice in the mail that there was some sort of hearing on the potential for their private street to be made public, or because they had a complaint that they wanted addressed.  This meeting was really quick moving, and I barely had time to type half of what I heard.

So, here are the impressions that weren’t included in my previous post:

It’s much more fun to attend one of these meetings sitting next to someone you like. Also, you can get really valuable journalism tips.

This is a citizen-driven meeting. I think one of my frustrations with Council meetings is that it doesn’t always seem obvious why something is being brought up.  At the Public Works meeting, the majority of items are on the agenda because a citizen requested city action.

There are way too many private streets. I think the majority of the issues the committee revolved around private streets, whether it be conversions, betterments, or damage caused by water runoff.  I live on a private street, and even I cannot believe that there are people living in this city with no sewer hookup.
People who live on private streets pay the same residential tax rate as those who live on public streets, but they don’t get all the benefits (namely, being able to ask DPW&P to get a pothole filled).  I think private streets are going to continue to be a huge public works nightmare for a long time to come.
Private streets are also a reminder that policy decisions should be made for the long term, and that bad trends should not be allowed to continue.  The city allowed private streets to flourish because it provided easy tax revenue with minimal city maintenance.  Now, some of those private streets are causing major headaches for the city, and will ultimately cost both the city government and the private street residents a lot of money.

Private street neighbor issues. The problem with the private street conversion hearings is that you’ve always got 95% of the neighbors leaning one way and you’ve got one neighbor who’s just coming in to get information.  So the one neighbor who’s looking at this as an information-gathering meeting is going to get clobbered by the other neighbors, who have their minds made up already.
Now, part of the problem is that you don’t get a lot of information before these hearings.  (Namely: how much is this going to cost?)  All you’ve got is a piece of paper telling you to show up at city hall.  So, you’ve got a group of neighbors who’s rabidly against it, spreading rumors about the exorbitant cost, which may or may not be true.
Private streets bring new meaning to the phrase “No man is an island.”  Because there ain’t going to be an island of public-street-with-sewer in front of your house if the rest of your neighbors aren’t going for it.

Councilor Clancy needs to read my blog. I was telling him how the Signs of Worcester series would not have happened without his assistance, and he’s looking at me like I have three heads.  Hey, I even use spell check!
I’m totally sending him a link tomorrow.

I need to go to more meetings. As boring as they are, these meetings are where the meat of the Council activity is.  So I’m going to commit to attending every one I possibly can.

Updated, March 10, 9.03am — For those of you who were able to slog through the liveblog, you know how funny (well, punchy) things got after the sewer folks left.  So, in response to a couple of things:

Writing about the EPA/unfunded mandates.  Clancy nominated Dianne Williamson to write about this; Toomey nominated Jeremy Shulkin. 
Petty — you could’ve been upgraded to third favorite councilor if you’d nominated me!
As unsexy as writing about public works is, I think there’s a significant interest in it.  Look at how many comments I’ve already gotten on this post, never mind all the feedback I’ve received on the street signs series!  And I don’t even have a large audience!

Comedic material.  Granted, saying the EPA is responsible for Halley’s Comet is of limited humor and requires a touch of context.  But there are no professional joke writers in the council chambers.
What we need is one of two things:
1) Soliciting actual funny people to sponsor their favorite councilor and be willing to provide them with material.
2) Invite Clancy and Moylan to do a joke-off at the next WorcesterMag on Tap.

Variations on a Theme

I was reading some of the materials from the Gov 2.0 Unconference, and I need to read/listen to more of it, but I thought I’d give some bullet points about interesting ideas/sites I’ve been reading about.  Hopefully someone (else) can write about them in depth.

  • There’s a website called Appify (see the Boston Appia site) where someone can download free or cheap applications for iPhone or Android, like SeeClickFix, which Brendan mentioned earlier this week, SitOrSquat, and CitizensConnect (which seems to be a Boston-based tool).  Appify seems to be an offshoot of DIYcity.
  • Somerville has a website called Somerville ResiStat (which I’m sure is just a clever mash of “resident” and “statistics,” but which makes me think of nothing so much as “Resistance is futile”).  I guess the point of the site is to get citizen feedback.  I’d be interested to look at this a bit more (and especially find out whether Somerville residents find it useful), but the site itself looks extremely uninviting to me.
  • I was also reading and hearing about something similar to SeeClickFix called Open311, which seeks to coordinate a “standardized, open-access, read/write model for citizens to report non-emergency issues” and is being piloted in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.  (Open311 is an initiative of The Open Planning Project.)
  • I also need to look at the apps on Applications for Democracy in more depth; DC Historic Tours, iLive.at, and StumbleSafely looked especially good.