You have to go slow to go fast – or do it over.” Hindsight is 20-20, and La Plata County has had since 2011, if not decades, to benefit from its rear-view mirror and the wise words of Martin Carcasson, director of Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation.
Last week, the county terminated its contract with Kendig Keast Collaborative, the firm hired to update the county land-use codes. Because their work will be used, it’s not a total loss, but it didn’t have to happen this way – again.
In 2011, the county’s attempt to update its decades-old land-use plan (the document that establishes the vision the code codifies in regulation) went up in flames, and with it, $700,000 of public funds and the invaluable volunteer time of hundreds of citizen participants involved in its public process.
When it comes to the hot topic of land use, county planning staff involved in the most recent and 2011’s effort, and all three sitting commissioners who have lived in the area for decades, seem to have missed the mark, not just Kendig Keast.
Had they been adequately involved with the consultants guiding their work on the front end – the Texas firm visited the county only twice – we might not have ended up with another failed process that, sadly, is not the company’s first (Herald, March 22).
It could have been different and would be no surprise to Carcasson who, based upon his center’s research into human nature, institutions and public processes, suggests traditional processes are not suited to success. Talking about tough issues, a difference in values, how we define and prioritize them, is most often the source of a community’s conflict.
Carcasson is often called upon in the aftermath of what he calls a “well-intentioned flop” at addressing “wicked problems,” a term Carcasson coined to describe an approach to issues that have multiple attitudes, values and opinions to consider. It is this approach to problem-solving that City Manager Ron LeBlanc introduced in his 2018 budget presentation, and Mayor Dick White referenced in his column Saturday.
Carcasson came to town at LeBlanc’s invitation a few weeks ago to meet with city staff and community leaders (including County Manager Joanne Spina), in Carcasson’s words, “to present a better way to engage in public process to make decisions to keep and grow Durango’s greatness” – what he calls “deliberative engagement.”
Projecting zero sales tax growth in 2018 (Herald, Sept. 26) and limited future resources, on March 1, the city kicked off its “Engage with your city” effort to hear from citizens about their vision, values and priorities for the future of Durango. In September, LeBlanc said, “We don’t have a budget problem, we have an opportunity to improve the public decision-making process.”
The city hasn’t always succeeded at public process either, but kudos to LeBlanc and his staff for looking to do things in a new way.
In the end, the county’s experience resulted in more residents stepping up to become engaged, hopefully informed and participating in processes they had not previously. It can be painful, but it may also just be a part of the evolution and hard work of democracy.
The next “Engage” community forum will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, April 16. at Durango City Hall. The final two forums are May 17 and June 25. A survey and more information can be found at durangogov.org/engage.