By: Nevin J. Mindlin
The Comprehensive Plan Belongs to Harrisburg’s Citizens
Recent published data regarding the City of Harrisburg (as opposed to the metro area) indicate that its economic and social conditions are flat-lined; they are stagnant. That doesn’t mean that some good things aren’t happening to which we can point. However, current policies – including taxation, regulation and economic development projects/programs – will not produce different results, regardless of public relations pronouncements to the contrary. Neither will cheerleading or finger-pointing to the past. Doing essentially the same thing, or some variation, and expecting a different result is insanity.
The problem is community dysfunction. Government will not solve the problem. The political class (both parties) is not interested in doing anything other than financially protecting their friends. Hence, no political class proposals are advanced that truly address inclusion, and its resulting social and economic improvement.
Real community engagement and involvement is our only choice. The comprehensive plan is that medium.
The primary responsibility for the comprehensive plan rests with City Council. That responsibility is rooted in statute. Council had a choice regarding which entity to assign the task – a Council committee, the Planning Commission, or the Planning Bureau. By adopted resolution Council designated the Planning Commission. Consequently the responsibility for the plan is that of the Council and the commission; the role of the administration is to provide support services, should the mayor approve accepting that role. Primary responsibility does NOT belong to the Mayor and his administration, and the role that they are seeking to assert is a usurpation of responsibility.
The comprehensive plan is a very important document. It is, in essence, a document that is designed to reflect the community’s plan for its future for public resources and how they impact with private resources. Done properly, through inclusion, the comprehensive plan should enable the release of private social and economic vitality, with a minimum of governmental interference.
The public’s role in the comprehensive plan process has been a continuing topic of conversation. I believe that we did not give enough time and resources to that effort, and I say that knowing that a sincere effort was made to engage the community by those who had that task. It is also true that City Council and the Planning Commission did not manage their responsibilities as they might have or should have. No doubt that the administration took that as a welcome opportunity.
I am not sure what the “facts” are, as to why we are at the impasse that we are. I am not sure that I care. From my standpoint the problem is not a contract problem; it is a political problem. It needs to be resolved by Council and the commission as a political problem. And, I would much prefer a mediated solution that serves the community’s needs and interests, than have money spent on proving “rightness” in a court battle.
As they say the “proof is in the pudding.” So, let’s see the pudding. The comprehensive plan consultant, Bret Peters indicates that the draft plan is basically completed, although not in a completely formatted form. Mr. Peters also indicates that the document faithfully reflects the thinking and concerns of the community. Post it for the public to see, and let us make our own judgements about its contents. We do not need the administration to edit, and substitute and release its version of a plan for us. (And, I want to be clear – I welcome the administration presenting what it believes ought to be the text of the plan. They have every right to be heard, but in this case they do not have a right to draft their own preferred version, with their own preferred subjectivity.)
The length of the plan is not an issue in the end. I have no doubt that the comprehensive plan’s presentation needs work. When I worked for the House, I knew that I needed to condense whatever the length of the report into something less than two pages. Right now I want to see the content. I expect that sections of the draft need to be shifted to appendices on detail and implementation. After the plan as drafted by the consultant, Bret Peters, is made public, then we, the community, can decide whether it reflects our interests. I want to begin with the thinking and presentation of a respected professional. I do not want to begin with the controlled preference of this administration.
No, I do not trust the administration. It is insular. It has been arrogant. It has demonstrated a propensity to act on behalf of favored friends. All of which have been noted in the PennLive mayoral “endorsement.”
Let’s begin where we are. Let’s see the draft. Let the public comment in an organized way. Let the administration state its case. Then, Council and the commission can manage a process to a conclusion that best serves the needs of our community. Those are the facts.