Teri Orr: There is no public process without the public
If you have ever been part of the public process — on either side of the dais — you know the messiest part of the equation is — the public. Once you are elected, appointed, anointed, you set to work doing the public’s business. You study, research, watch and listen to endless consultants about education, recreation, procreation and you form researched, studied opinions. You meet with your co-councilors, board members and staff and set plans to move forward to educate, legislate or (let’s be honest) possibly manipulate current standards and laws. After all, you know where all the loopholes, wormholes and sinkholes are. You might move a line item here, bury a special project under there and muddle the meaning of the ordinance so it more carefully meets what you think is best. And please know I am not implying actual malfeasance … just a certain ease-ance.
Just over a year ago, the process for giving public input was pretty easy. You showed up at the mic and spoke. In front of that panel of mostly stern-faced people — you helped get elected. You nervously spoke from your heart about your issue.
Everyone equally was heard. And lord knows — anyone who ever attended a public session of anything knows how painful some of those open mic sessions were/are. The funny thing is that is exactly how democracy works. We elect people to represent us. Not to rule us. We, the people, are the most important part of the process.
When Zoom meetings necessitated a new public process things got sloppy and it was to be expected. At one county hearing so many people showed up online the platform crashed. Running a meeting suddenly required a tech person on hand now and a moderator to facilitate the Q-and-A and respond to “raised hands.” And we were patient — all learning at the same time — these new Robert’s Rules of Online Order.
But now there is no excuse for public bodies to not fully include the public. So when a recent hearing happened — this time for the city — and the moderator was selectively picking/choosing which questions to take and which to answer, this amounted to thwarting the public process. We want to know — not by way of the moderator or the mayor re-framings of the questions or lumping together their interpretation of related topics — the answers to the exact questions being asked and who exactly is doing the asking. Because the question is often informed by the context of the asker — someone with professional or educational expertise, someone underserved or underrepresented or simply someone who has something to lose or gain.
You can now see a recap of the reframed questions and the guided as appropriate answers on the city’s arts and culture district website. But as for who said what in their exact words? Well, no names are attached.
And what about ALL the questions that were left unasked and therefore unanswered? Personally I sent in seven (still unanswered) questions.
1) Since the decision was made to purchase this property in 2016/17 has there been a city department head that has consistently managed this process? If so, who, and if not, why?
2) What is the estimated hard cost of the soil mitigation for the entire project?
3) Since 2017 what has been actual cash (not fee waivers) the city spent on those things we could all agree are directly arts and culture? (Apart from consultants of any project.)
4) Did the city remove its support from the Park City Summit Arts Council this year? If so, why?
5) Did the city consult with any arts group before it came up with the plan to paint to the mural on Main Street — or did they consult with them only after the decision to create the mural had been made by elected officials? Did the money for that project come from an arts related city budget item or a from monies designed to “promote” business in Park City?
6) If this project goes forward where will the team come from within the current city staff who will be directly involved with managing all aspects of this project?
7) Has the city consulted directly with members of the Utah Arts Council? The National Endowment for the Arts, Americans for the Arts, Artplace or Artspace or any other full-time professional arts experts that are also possible funding sources?
After 40 years in the arts and culture world here — from pop-up Neil Simon plays in the Kimball Arts Center in the late ’70s to my time in the early ’80s rehabbing the former Silver Wheel theater into the Egyptian to stewarding the fundraising and the building of the Eccles Center — I feel uniquely well versed in this topic.
But my questions never appeared. I sent them again to the city officials and was told they would appear when the city updated its site. And so I waited. And when the website was updated, yet again no names were attached to any of the questions they had paraphrased in their text. Not one of my topics was directly addressed.
This isn’t the form of government I expect. Nor is it representative of the one we have been working with for decades. We Parkites are used to participating — not being marginalized and sidelined. I understand things have changed under COVID. I understand these are tough topics in difficult times. But I expect that my city representatives will be responsive to their constituents and the issues that so many folks are seriously concerned about.
This is also an election year with the mayoral and two council seats up for grabs. The filings open for those positions in a month and a half. I am eager to see who will run to represent — not sacred cows and special interests — but the residents of this privileged community who have expected and participated in an active, engaged, respectful form of government for so very many decades.
Come November — we must be motivated to vote for the change we want to see … for all the Sundays in the Park ahead…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.
Last winter was a mess for a lot of reasons, including boneheaded management in Colorado, but the bulk of the problems were that nobody in town was adequately staffed. It’s not going to get better.
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