Monday, May 17, 2010

Neighborhood Protection Alliance of Richardson

Neighborhood Protection Alliance. The name might conjure up some kind of organized crime protection racket. Or maybe a vigilante group. The reality is not bad news, but the very existence of such a group indicates that all is not well in Smallville, USA Richardson.

After the jump, what the Neighborhood Protection Alliance means for Richardson.

In January, I wrote an "Open Letter to Greg Sowell", Richardson's newly hired communications director. In it I challenged the city to step up local government's two-way communication with residents, meeting with homeowners' associations, holding town hall meetings, focus groups and work groups. With the emergence of the Neighborhood Protection Alliance of Richardson, I fear that the city is not making progress on this need and may instead be digging a deeper divide between the city and its residents.

Last week, I wrote about my frustration with a recent communication from City Manager Bill Keffler in the April 30 "Week in Review" newsletter. In it, he said, "For our neighbors tracking the Lookout Drive transfer station issue. I want to let you know the City is close to finalizing a deal with the North Texas Municipal Water District and the adjacent neighborhoods regarding the facility."

Upon first glance, this sounds encouraging. It implies the city is talking with residents. Upon second reading, one begins to wonder just who is being talked to and when, and where are the agendas and minutes of those meetings? Finally, upon learning of the emergence of the Neighborhood Protection Alliance of Richardson, alarm bells are blaring in my head. Where the blurb in city newsletter is brief and vague and positive, the website of the Neighborhood Protection Alliance is detailed, specific and concerned. The Alliance lists the dates and attendees of meetings between city staff and interested residents. It lists the sixteen "protections" that the residents want to see the city commit to in the redevelopment of the Lookout Drive Transfer Station. And it spells out the challenges the Alliance has faced in trying to talk to the city and the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD).

Why the city can't provide as detailed and explicit information as the Alliance does is extremely frustrating. The Alliance's website is filling a vacuum created by the city's silence on this issue. In one update, the Alliance charges: "Its our understanding that the City is meeting internally and with the District, but still no updates have been provided since April 2." Several times, the Alliance announced tentative plans for a public forum. First, it's May 3, then May 17, then June 14. Who knows when or if it'll happen at all. The city should be taking the lead on getting the word out about both the discussions taking place and on planning public forums. Instead, all we get is a brief, vague, and possibly misleading optimistic note in a city newsletter promising an imminent "deal."

I don't know what Greg Sowell has been up to in his new job as communications director for the City of Richardson, but whatever it is, I think he's been given the wrong priorities. Any issue that prompts the creation of a group called the Neighborhood Protection Alliance, with several neighborhood associations listed by name as supporting the alliance's position on the issue, is an issue that deserves much more attention, much more communication than a brief, vague mention in a city newsletter. Come on, Richardson. You can do better than this. The task of repairing strained relations with residents will be much harder than being open and transparent and communicative from the start.

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