Carr Rebuttal – City Staff are the Dysfunction, not HARC

[Letter to Williamson County Sun, October 11, 2006 – Ross Hunter]

I must challenge Councilman Carr’s flawed reasoning underlying his call to
abolish HARC. Mr. Carr correctly affirms that HARC is doing its job
steadfastly, in a way that has not changed. But when he diagnoses a
dysfunction in the applicant-review process, he kills the messenger rather
than addressing the message, in saying that removing HARC will solve the
problem.

HARC is a body that deliberates publicly, in the eye of the electorate when
it furthers public policy. Mr. Carr would replace HARC with city staff,
through the city manager’s office, which is under no equivalent burden of
public scrutiny. Thus Mr. Carr, an elected representative, advocates closing
a window of transparency into the town’s development process.

I not only reject his call for secrecy, I advocate opening an additional
window into this process. I allege that city staff are the dysfunction here,
and if Romeo’s application has failed twice, the fault lies certainly with
the advice that shaped their application, since the rules and the process
haven’t changed.

HARC is simply a measuring stick, used to judge individual cases against the
system of measures and values established by public debate and the political
process in the ruling ordinance. If values have now changed, let’s debate to
change the ordinance, and maintain public review.

City staff in recent months have twice betrayed a disturbing alienation from
the town’s prevailing culture, and in both cases have seriously misled an
outside entity into false planning. While almost three years were wasted at
taxpayer expense, CARTS had no idea their location for a bus depot was
absurd on its face, until the matter came to public scrutiny before another
measuring stick of public policy, the Planning and Zoning Commission. After
this public airing, matters moved very quickly. It is not democracy that
slows things down, it is secrecy.

To local townspeople the most troubling part of Romeo’s error is the very
extreme nature of it. City staff, again, have been incredibly wide of the
mark in their advocacy. The common thread in both cases is that city staff
have promised an outside entity success, contingent “merely” upon changing
the existing zoning or ruling ordinance. In both cases, city staff have
recommended actions that overturn public policy.

City staff are unelected, and not directly accountable to the public or the
political process. Every time their advice comes up against public review,
their advice is revealed to be worthless. What we need here is not to close
a window of transparency, but to open a new one up into the current projects
that city staff are entrusted with. What new fiascos are waiting in the
wings to come into the light of day? The true dysfunction here lies with
city staff, and their oversight, and their guiding principles of action,
both of which properly come from the city council.

Mr. Carr’s impatience with the democratic process is misplaced. So is the
eruption of hostility and frustration coming from other elected
representatives and the business community. All these grievances deserve a
full public airing and debate, since this is the only proven way to move
matters forward expeditiously.
Ross Hunter

 

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