Pace Land Use experts discuss primacy of public outreach with Steering Committee and TB members
Pace Land Use Law Center Team: Tiffany Zezula and Professor John Nolon
With 31 comments since publication
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
by Christine Yeres
In a roundtable discussion last Tuesday, Tiffany Zezula and Professor John Nolon of Pace Land Use Law Center explained the public outreach process they have been engaged to help conduct. The two described the job of the Master Plan Steering Committee to formulate a comprehensive plan for New Castle, the Town Board’s role as ultimate decision-maker at the end of the 18-month process—and the ability of the outreach to focus also on pressing issues and pending applications. “Not every community cares to hear from its public,” said Nolon, ”—and that’s what a comprehensive plan is. The goal the community has for itself. Where do you want to see yourself in five to ten years? The comprehensive plan does that. I applaud the town for thinking how to do an aggressive public engagement process.”
Other Master Plan materials:
For background documents on the Town’s website click HERE.
For a look at the Master Plan produced by the Town of Bedford in 2002, click HERE.
For a documentary from a tiny town in Maine on how it came to understand the Master Plan process, see 38-Minute Message in a Bottle from a Small Town in Maine: How to Master Plan, NCNOW.org, 3/21/14.
And visit NCNOW.org’s Master Plan page for collected articles on—what else? —master planning.
Master Plan Steering Committee members and their topics:
• Maud Bailey: Public Services and Recreation
• Dick Brownell: Environment, Habitat and Scenic Resources
• Rob Greenstein: Commercial Development and Hamlets
• Bob Kirkwood: Housing
• Hala Makowska: Public Works Infrastructure
“What are the hardest and easiest parts of this?” asked Town Board member Jason Chapin.
“The hardest part,” said Zezula, “is getting out to the people who don’t come to your Town Board meetings, who don’t get involved.”
“Another challenge,” she said, “is what to do with the information. How is the committee going to do with the information? How to input this information within that document?”
“How do we draw out feedback from a large portion of the community?” asked Maud Bailey, a Steering Committee member.
“How do you get a representative sample of the population so that the review is credible?” asked Hala Makowska, a Steering Committee member.
In her involvement with the hamlet steering committee several years ago, said Town Board member Elise Mottel, “we always wrestled with ‘What’s the right thing to do? What does the community really want?’ And ‘Is that 30% or 40% or 50% of people who feel a particular way—how do we judge?”
“My work group’s interest—the environment,” said Steering Committee and Planning Board member Richard Brownell, “—is that there’s a lot worth preserving—the residential character of the town, that it should be redeveloped using sustainable techniques while we figure out what the new character should be if there’s a change.”
“We do have some applications pending,” said Supervisor Rob Greenstein. “Some bring much controversy with them and they’re going to need to be discussed in the public outreach process—or not—but they’re out there and they’re something that needs to be addressed. We did have a change in administration. In the recent election, three of five Town Board members changed. Public outreach is very important. We do want to hear everybody’s opinion, but there are some applications pending that are moving forward and we need some guidance for those applications.”
“We worked till 10 p.m. last night on the housing issue,” said Bob Kirkwood, Steering Committee and Chairman of the Planning Board, “How to enhance our housing, upgrade our housing stock, expand that stock. There are issues and pressures. I think we can do a good job, be really responsive and responsible and, frankly, be—as this town often has been—a model. It’s an enormous task, with special acuity to it. I’m still interested not in starting over, but in updating the master plan. There are some tough challenges, strong debates on what we need to do. But it’s important that hte community realizes that we’re not going to come up with a vision everybody agrees with. Everyone can be comfortable and confident about the process, but make sure we execute that plan, too.”
“I’ve been on the Town Board for two months,” said Town Board member Lisa Katz. “There are significant issues facing our town right now. Significant applications pending. I firmly believe that we have to plan before we consider these applications. I ran on the platform of listening to our constituents. It’s easy to hear what the people who approach you say. It’s not so easy to hear what everybody has to say.”
“We want to reach as many people as possible,” continued Katz, “not just those who show up at Town Board meetings. And we want to approach them in an unbiased manner. I really want it to be an unbiased view from all of our community members as to what’s best on these pending applications and going forward. There will be significant impacts [resulting from these applications] forever. We can’t get it wrong.”
“I’m enthusiastic,” said Town Board member Adam Brodsky, “about the Master Plan process. We’re facing tremendous challenges—Reader’s Digest, the spa, the mosque—as to what direction we’re facing going forward, and the significant challenges our downtown is facing. We should look specifically at downtown and what things we can do to re-envision and imagine it—zoning, parking, a vision going forward.”
“New Castle is not a homogeneous community,” said Steering Committee member and Chair of the Millwood Fire Commissioners, Hala Makowska. “It’s not just downtown Chappaqua. We have very diverse hamlets and neighborhoods. The Master Plan has to recognize that. There are unique land use restrictions in the West End.”
A partnership between Pace and the town
“Part of our scope of service,” said Zezula, “is that we have land use expertise. We are and will be taking the time from now till the end [of the outreach] working with you to uncover some of the public input to these topics. We’re going to rely on you to strategize. This is really a partnership between us and you.”
“Tiffany organizes a process and people come out,” said Nolon, “because they care about their community. The legal requirement for participation is very minimal: One public hearing before turning over your plan to the Town Board, and the Town Board is obliged to have one public hearing. That’s it. Nobody obliges you to retain facilitators to get everyone in the community involved by some means—that’s something you’re doing because in your wisdom you should do it.”
Building a vision, rather than a one-off
“What you’re doing through this process,” said Nolon, “is building a permanent constituency for a vision, rather than a one-off. Building a constituency for a proper vision for your community is very wise. It should result in a plan you can all consult in a variety of ways. Now the importance of a comprehensive plan is that under NY State law, all land use regulations—which include zoning, subdivision, site plan regulations and environmental protection ordinances, housing legislation—all those regulations should be in conformance with a comprehensive plan. So the way it’s supposed to work is you adopt a comprehensive plan and you anticipate the kinds of things that will come up in a community over time. And you put in goals, objectives, strategies and implementation techniques. So when you actually sit down and rezone the community or rezone a site or the Planning Board approves a project that’s before it, you’re guided by the comprehensive plan.”
While we have a de-facto comprehensive plan, it’s better to have an up-to-date one
“All the things you’ve done since 1989 is your comprehensive plan,” said Nolon. “A court would look at that and say ‘That’s what you’ve decided. And is this rezoning or is this land use regulation consistent with that body of thought? That’s what they would do in the absence of an updated comprehensive plan that had a 2012 or 2013 or 2014 date on it. So if your zoning or land use regulations were ever challenged the court would try to sum up what your comprehensive planning looks like and see if this zoning or land use regulation is consistent with that. So that’s good reason to have an up-to-date comprehensive plan: It helps guide the court.”
Master Plan Steering Committee formulates the plan, passes it to the Town Board
“Your Steering Committee, having been tasked by the Town Board to formulate a comprehensive plan, is going to be in a position to hand the Town Board a tremendous amount wisdom from the community. But then the Town Board has another shot at that through its public hearing and a variety of additional efforts to get the community involved. So what we’re doing is a process for the next three or four months. [The Town Board has] said you want to get citizens’ input quickly and robustly. You put that into your plan but then continue to come back to the community for input.”
As a municipal corporation, the Town Board has fiscal and market realities to deal with
“A little bit at odds with this is that it’s the Town Board’s responsibility to decide what goes into the Master Plan,” explained Nolon. “They can accept the Steering Committee’s ideas and the community’s ideas—or not. It’s the Town Board that has to deal with tax caps, ratables, financing, doing the budget, a variety of external forces that are working on the community right now. I can’t say enough how important that community vision and ideas and input is, but ultimately there’s a lot of data out there that defines the market within which New Castle operates and defines the finances of the world in which you operate, that defines some of the demographics you’re going to have to deal with. You’ve got a lot of demographic issues in the community that not everybody knows about just because they own a home or happen to be on the Planning Board. The way that the housing market is changing or the tsunami of seniors that’s coming—so many seniors who want to sell their single family houses and there may not be a market for that. The Town Board has to consider those things, whether they come up through the citizen participation process or not. So there’s a awful lot of responsibility sitting on the Town Board ultimately when it adopts the contents of the plan and ultimately you want to incorporate as much citizen input as you can, but those are not the only circumstances that you take into consideration.”
The same level of work for all parts of the plan is not necessary
“You said you have task forces focused on certain areas already,” said Nolon. “You have diverse neighborhoods. You also have to decide what your emphases are for your comprehensive plan. Certain communities are electing to focus on certain areas or certain geographic areas. You don’t have to do the same level of work in the whole community. That’s a choice that you make.”
Ongoing applications and the moratorium
“With respect to the ongoing applications before the Town Board and Planning Board,” said Nolon, “certain things being appealed and court decisions and settlements—for all those things you have to follow the timelines that the law dictates for handling those projects. You can’t just arbitrarily hold them up—unless you issue a moratorium and say ‘Everything before the town’s boards is going to be held up until we adopt a comprehensive plan.’ You can do that—and that will hold everything up, if that’s what you think you should do. Otherwise you follow timelines for those projects. So if you’re not going to do a moratorium, which is a very harsh thing to do, then the question becomes how you get information in these next three months that would inform the boards that are making those decisions that are currently before them. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you weren’t doing a comprehensive plan and you were rezoning somebody’s property, you would have to put into that rezoning ordinance some findings about the planning principles that are guiding your decision. So if you’re doing a comprehensive plan process and you’ve got three or four different issues that you want to call the community’s attention to you can do that and gather from that some community input that will guide those boards that are following those deadlines. These are simple choices.”
A vision, but also a guide to implementation
“Yes,” said Nolon, “in the comprehensive plan you’re setting goals and objectives, and that’s sometimes the focus of citizen participation—What’s your vision? Where would we like to be in a number of years?—but a comprehensive plan also has to think about strategy and implementation. Who needs to do what? And that’s what keeps this from becoming a sit-on-the-shelf type document. You need to talk to your experts, talk to your community and for every goal come up with objectives and for every objective come up with some implementation and strategy techniques. So if you have as a goal to protect the environment, what does that goal look like? Which pieces of the environment are you most interested in protecting? How are you going to manage that?”
“Bob [Kirkwood] mentioned housing,” said Nolon. “I think what a lot of planning misses is what are your current demographics? What do you want your future demographics to be? Who is working in the community? How quickly is the community aging? How quickly is our whole demographic aging? What’s happening with our young people? And demographics affects a lot of other issues.”
Demographics and fiscal realities
“I see in some of your subcommittees a focus on commercial development and on the economy of the community,” said Nolon. “Again, just to get back to reality: This is a municipal corporation. The Town Board has been elected to run a corporation. It has to have a balanced budget, it has to have revenue, it has to contain its expenses. And that is so often missed in community meetings about land use and community development. So when you are thinking about your commercial development, what’s the market that’s out there? What kinds of new commercial properties can you expect to have? Are you going to have significant tax base? Are they going to be net tax-positive development? Are they going to generate sales taxes or not? And ultimately these are the kinds of things so many suburban communities are having trouble with: just maintaining fiscal integrity. So at the end of the day, somehow, during this process, the community that’s participating and giving you their visions for the future has to be educated a little about the fiscal reality of local government. And that if you have a bankrupt community, nothing you plan is going to work—no matter what environment you want to protect or what housing you want to build. If it doesn’t work fiscally, you’re in serious trouble. So the buck stops with the Town Board.”
“When do you educate the public to fiscal reality?” asked Maud Bailey.
“I think within the next two or three months,” said Nolon, “you want these fiscal issues on the table. And it depends on how you organize a given conversation you educate the public a little each time you meet.”
How does it all work? Not just one night meeting at the high school.
“Can you walk us through how the process works?” asked Lisa Katz. “How do you reach all of our community members?”
“At some of the community meetings we host,” explained Zezula, “there’s going to be an education component to it. We would start our sessions each time with ‘Here’s what we’re doing, here’s why it’s important,’ and then break into very small working groups. Some communities feel that they want their Steering Committee members to facilitate that dialogue with the community—and we train them to be facilitators. So with our staff facilitators present, committee members are actually the ones in dialogue with the public. Or we can design a process in which our staff are the facilitators and we get that community input. That’s step one. This has to be numerous times this has to happen. Not just one time, Thursday night at the high school. It’s where are all the different places we need to go. Should we host one downtown? In Brewster [where we’re conducting a Master Plan process] we met with the Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce. The PTA, the schools. Wherever the major places are that people convene we ask them same questions the we ask at larger meetings. How can we meet with people? I’ve had Master Plan Steering Committee members go to a rec center with a survey and a whiteboard taking notes about what the public wants. It’s going to be about us going out to people. Just because we host four [larger] meetings, I don’t think that’s enough.”
What can we call it that doesn’t sound boring?
“So how are we going to decide how not to call it a ‘comprehensive plan’?” asked Zezula. “How can we phrase this to get people excited to come out and participate? Online engagement can be important, a survey people participate in—that’s one way. We have to have multiple ways to get people to participate. We’re only on board for the next few months, so I want to be as aggressive as possible for that time. So we want to give the Steering Committee as much support as we can, so that when they have their community input and you get down to some of those zoning changes that have to be made—or the land use strategies you’d like to use to accomplish that goal—it’s time then to go back to the public because now you’re talking about implementation. At that moment you’re going back to the public and having them prioritize the strategies the town is thinking of using. Let the community decide, get their input.”
“In some of this public input,” said Nolon, “people are going to be wrong. Or have a lot of very strong positions, telling you what they want or what’s wrong. And you have to let that happen. But gradually you get past that and Tiffany’s able to have productive conversations.” Nolon noted the value of having some ground rules. He told of a time when he had to stop a resident who was dominating the community conversation. He told the person, ‘We’re going to have to report that our group didn’t get anything done because you wouldn’t follow the ground rules.’ And thereafter he followed the ground rules.
“You have to have ground rules,” said Nolon, “that allow people to get past their positions and past their lack of understanding and get the kind of knowledge base that they need and then they can talk about what their real issues are with the community.”
“What they value,” said Zezula, “and what they want their future to look like here.”
Should we ask the same questions of everyone, at each meeting?
“Should there be consistency in our outreach?” asked Town Board member Elise Mottel. “Should we all be asking the same questions?”
“Yes,” said Zezula. “And we start by asking ‘Really, what do you like about the town?’ Sometimes the hardest part for people is talking about what they like rather than what they hate about the community. And you can ask the same questions in all the subject areas.”
“The survey is different,” Zezula explained. “If that’s the route you want to go, with a survey we can provide sample surveys of what other communities have done online—but it would have to be fast and short. General questions that get people thinking and intrigued and wanting to participate. Maybe ten questions on all of the topics.”
“We would be doing ‘all of the above’—a survey, public outreach,” said Zezula.
“I think this community is pretty statistically savvy,” said Hala Makowska. “We’ve already gone down that online short survey and lost all credibility. Somebody clearly put a lot of effort into doing it and got about 900 responses and was basically [abandoned] because it wasn’t one person/one survey. It wasn’t a random survey.”
“If you want to go the survey route,” said Zezula, “you can require that they register.”
Can we not start so open-ended?
“How do you develop that discussion guide with relevant questions to be concrete enough to spur meaningful input” asked Hala Makowska, “rather than ‘What do you love about the town? What’s your value system?’—not so open-ended, so broad that you can’t really draw conclusions from the input?”
“I think you first need that,” said Zezula. “I think you need that because if we’re going to get people who’ve never participated in this process before—they want to talk about that. That’s their community—those goals, that vision, that pie-in-the-sky is important to hear. We need to take that and frame it in the next public outreach session with questions that are in relation to that goal, then get to specific objectives and then to specific strategies. We walk ourselves through that.”
The importance of pie-in-the-sky
“I strongly value that pie-in-the-sky, because that means something to people. And if we’re going to get away from the positional arguments—such as ‘How that property should be zoned’ or ‘How much percentage we want of residential versus commercial’— we have to understand and be able to go back to the public with ‘Here are the interests, here are the true values of people.’ And that’s important to note and to have depth.”
How to reach those not on social media?
“That makes me wonder,” said Town Board member Jason Chapin, “whether segments of our community—senior citizens or others—who may not be tuned in to social media. How do we make sure we have the appropriate level of penetration?”
“I agree,” said Zezula. “And it could be that we get one percent of people to participate online. The important component for us to work on as a team is to find the strategic places where people live and breathe in New Castle. So besides our general public meetings we host, we need to go out to those places. This is all about listening.”
“Your idea of pie-in-the-sky first,” said Maud Bailey, “—how do you reach people? I’d go to the train station.”
“The A&P and Starbucks,” said Mottel.
“The Interfaith Council,” said Chapin.
What comes after the outreach?
“Say we’ve done the public outreach and surveys,” said Katz. “What happens then?”
“I’m here for the next few months,” said Zezula. “We’ll help you develop your public engagement. Our product to you will be a report that basically takes everything that we’ve heard or that you guys get or that the survey collects, and the report will show what that means in each of your components. And then so that you can see what the public has said. The next step is up to your Steering Committee to take that and begin to think about what are some of the objectives that have to be met. And then the next challenge is to add in the market reality, the fiscal reality, and then come back to the public again.”
The three-pronged problem statement
“You might want to use your five Steering Committee members to frame your survey,” said Nolon. “And we like to use what I call a ‘three-prong problem statement’ to get people’s input. What that does is to recognize all of the interests at play in the subcommittee’s topics. So, for example, you ask:
‘How do we preserve the critical environmental aspects of the community in order to maintain our community character while respecting our need for a healthy tax base?’
“Then you can take your survey questions [each in this form: How do we ______, in order to _______, while _______?] and organize them around each of the prongs, asking ‘What is your input on this first part of the question—What are the critical assets we’re trying to protect? What is the character we’re trying to maintain?’ And then, ‘How do we do this while respecting the tax base?’”
“By framing the question like that we’re trying to create an atmosphere in which everyone wants to come to participate,” said Nolon. “And this is also a good frame of reference for your survey. This is the work of people who know their communities,” Nolon continued. “You can’t survey people about everything. Nobody wants change. You’ll get a lot of ‘Don’t change.’”
Nolon confirmed with Town Planner Sabrina Charney that “there will be a lot of information and other data coming from the county, right?” Yes, said Charney.
“It would be helpful,” said Nolon, “if that information can be at the subcommittee meetings before the general meetings take place—to inform people before they say stuff that they would rather not say if they knew that information, right? So keep everything organized around your five groups.”
Who will formulate the questions—and will Pace review them? We want to avoid “leading” questions.
“Who are the people who are going to be formulating questions not only for the survey but for all the public outreach?” asked Supervisor Rob Greenstein, also a Steering Committee member on commercial development and the hamlets subcommittee. “Are they going to be formulated by the work groups or—does your [Pace] group review them? Because I think a lot of people are concerned that the questions are going to be leading questions that are aimed to get specific answers. We obviously want to avoid that. And the second question is because we have very strong opinions in the community, there are going to be people along the way who are always going to be challenging the process—people who have experience doing this and feel ‘This is the way we should be doing this’ even though we have specific instructions from you [Pace] as to how we should be doing this. So I think it would be helpful to be very specific about the process and stick to that process—so that when we run into people who feel we should change the process we can have a framework to fall back on.”
“I’d build on that,” said Makowska, “and say that if the town itself could articulate what the process is and level-set expectations about what’s supposed to be achieved at each stage and an estimated timetable to accomplish that I think that would help alleviate some of what I think is the inherent concern that maybe things are just moving too fast.”
Nolon fully supported the notion of constantly informing the public at each and every meeting, “This is the timetable, this is the process, this is where we are, this is what we’re doing.”
Five people—the Steering Committee—are responsible for all of this
“Technically,” Nolon said to Greenstein, “you have tasked this ‘special board’ [the Steering Committee] to be responsible for the comprehensive plan’s formulation. So five people are responsible—unless you tell them differently—for all of this. Tiffany will give you ideas and Town Board input is important, but it’s those five people who are responsible. And then part of the process is [the Town Board saying] “We have appointed these five people. Look at them. They’re up there. They represent a variety of different issues and ideas. We’ve selected them to run this process. They will run the process. Here’s the process. They’re responsible. And the, ultimately, at the end of the timeline it comes back to the Town Board for ultimate decision-making.”
“So the Steering Committee members will be the ones who formulate the questions,” said Greenstein. “Will you guys review the questions?”
“Absolutely,” said Zezula. “And I think that for the first initial questions they’re going to be a little bit more vague and less leading for what we’re trying to accomplish in that first phase. And I agree with John, you need to repeat the process. And have the public in general understand where their pieces are coming into [the whole process].”
The Master Plan Steering Committee next meets on Tuesday, April 1, at 5:30 p.m.
The group discussed where the “major nodes” of residents are to be found.
Areas identified were the West End, Millwood, Chappaqua hamlet, Chappaqua Crossing area, far east end, Whippoorwill Lake, the five school districts [all but two have fewer than 50 properties in each], Kisco Park.
“Chappaqua Crossing is not a separate geographic area,” said Greenstein. “If you want to handle it in a separate meeting because it’s a huge issue, that’s a separate story.”
“We have seven different polling places for our 16 election districts,” offered Town Administrator Jill Shapiro. She suggested organizing outreach around those locations.
“In each of these locations,” said Katz, “the issues for the people who live near those locations may be different, but then again—take Chappaqua Crossing— we definitely want to hear from people who live at Chappaqua Crossing, but I would also want to hear input from the West End also.”
“When we do this,” said Zezula, “in each area it’s going to be the same exact meeting, the same exact questions, the same people facilitating.”
“We also don’t want people to show up at the meeting who are just opposed to a particular project,” said Greenstein, “and they’re showing up at a meeting solely to make their opinions known.”
“We want to be broad-based,” said Bailey.
“And that’s where the facilitating training comes in,” said Charney, “and taking control of the meeting.”
“You’re going to have a lot of people come because they’ve never been invited to a town meeting before,” said Nolon, “and they’ve got something to complain about. ‘OK,’ you tell them, ‘we’ll put that down on a piece of paper, but that’s not why we’re here tonight. We’re here to talk about these five topics.’”
“Can you ask people to attend just one of those meetings?” asked Dan Googel, a member of Greenstein’s commercial development and hamlets committee.
“No, the meetings have to be open,” said Zezula, “but what you’re getting at—you host seven separate meetings, but those [people who have a habit of town meeting engagement] aren’t the only people we’re looking for. Who are the others and how do we reach them?”
“Community email lists,” suggested Makowska. “I could see turning out 150 or 200 people even just from the West End. What’s the optimal size meeting?”
“Five times 15,” said Nolon, “so 45.”
“There are lots of little local mailing lists,” said Makowska.
“There will be five of you Steering Committee members,” said Zezula, “and our staff. The key to this is breaking everyone up into small groups.”
“You don’t want to have a group discussion where people can’t talk,” observed Nolon.
“I think 20 to 25 people per group would be acceptable,” said Zezula. “And then we have to think about how many facilitators we have.”
“And each facilitator would have the same list of questions, and someone writing down ideas,” said Bailey.
“We may start with the same questions,” said Kirkwood, “but I hope we would drill down in different areas and find out specifics and what makes people think and what are the hot ticket items there—because I assure you, Riverwoods has different issues than the hamlets and the East End.”
“The question then is whether your five topics are appropriate for all areas,” said Nolon. “It looks as thought the five will be relevant to all your places, but should you have different levels or questions in some areas?”
“This is an update of the Master Plan,” noted Kirkwood. “For example, housing issues in some parts of town are pretty much answered. So as we drill down and look at this I think the point of the group here is to synthesize the information we get from the different locales.”
“Or we could add one ‘sexy’ question for each area—the hook—and then once we get them there we ask them all five questions,” suggested Greenstein.
“So who are the other stakeholders here?” asked Zezula. “Are there organizations that have large numbers of members who don’t traditionally get involved in land use?”
Brainstorming produced: PTA, West End Neighborhood Taxpayers, Interfaith Council, Chamber of Commerce, condo associations, neighborhood associations, Lawrence Farms, local newspapers, CodeRED, sports organizations, AYSO games.
“Before we think of blasting news of a meeting through CodeRED or newspapers, where do we see ourselves visiting them on their grounds where they’re meeting at night” asked Zezula, “—and hook into their meetings right then and there?”
“If we have local questions as a hook to get people there,” said Steering Committee and Planning Board member Dick Brownell, “I feel the other groups should hear what those questions were.”
“You mean so there’s a level playing field,” said Makowska, “in terms of assessing the value of the responses?”
“I truly feel that with the distribution of the topics among the five work groups,” said Charney, “there’s not one ‘extra’ question that wouldn’t fit within one of your topics.”
“I think people meant that an additional question would be used as a catch-phrasey outreach tool in the mailing to get people to come to the meetings, but I’d want the same questions—a level playing field—at every single meeting,” said Zezula.
“So should Town Board members should be showing up at these meetings or do you only want Steering Committee members?” asked Katz.
“Our subcommittee members might want to help facilitate,” said Makowska.
“You’ll be formulating the questions, find meeting locations, the various methods of outreach, and formulate three-prong problem statements,” said Charney.
“There should be a global email list in organizing this,” said Nolon. “And we need to put together a timeline for the whole process. We’re with you for 12 weeks, but you need to put together a 12- to 18-month timeline that you repeat all the time.”
“On April 1 we’d like to be able to announce our first few meetings,” said Zezula.
“Is it appropriate for Town Board members to be facilitators?” asked Chapin. “People might be reluctant to speak frankly with Town Board members.”
“I think the political component should absolutely be set aside,” said Makowska, “which is why I think a subcommittee member could be useful.”
“I have no problem not being a facilitator,” said Greenstein.
“I meant that all five of us should not be facilitators,” said Chapin.
“So think of yourselves as your individual topics,” said Zezula. “And think of who are the stakeholders that should be involved in that discussion, and think of locations for hosting large meetings and think about who we are contacting. Obtain email contacts.”
Pace staff at every meeting so the process is not viewed as “flawed”?
“Knowing our town,” said Katz, “it might be helpful to have someone from Pace who’s not associated with the town at all to be present at every meeting, because we don’t want the criticism that the process is flawed. If we have someone who’s completely unbiased at each of these meetings at each of these phases it would be good.”
“But do you want to pay for a Pace person to be present at each of the separate [smaller] meetings?” asked Bailey.
“We’d have to see what that costs, but ultimately, I think we would,” said Katz, “if it’s doable.”
“Having someone facilitating properly—truly a listening activity—doing that and asking the same questions and not going off-script—” said Zezula, “people will participate because you’re involved and they know you. There can truly be a benefit to it.”
Building a civic dialogue through this process
“You’re really building a civic dialogue here in your community through this process,” said Nolon. “And if it’s a process that has integrity and it truly works and people feel listened to, and feel that they understand, they’ve going to give the community credit for being able to run this kind of thing. We’ll help you, but we can’t be here till 2027. You have to develop a process that establishes credibility in the town itself.”
“What about a timeline for the full 18-month process?” asked Wally Toscano.
“The Town Board are the ultimate decision-makers,” said Nolon.
“You’ve seen a lot,” said Makowska to Nolon. “You know what works and what doesn’t. I think [the Town Board is] asking for a recommendation for a credible process that Pace can present to the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee can work with Sabrina to sort of vet that, then the Steering Committee can present that to the Town Board and the Town Board ratifies that—a bottom-up process.”
The 1-hour, 51-minute video is below: