Post #305: This week’s schedule as an example of Town governance

Posted on June 24, 2019

I send out an email, once a week to inform people of MAC-related public meetings in the Town of Vienna.  It’s not as easy as you might think, because the Town tends to be … sloppy … about keeping citizens informed.  In this post, I’m going to walk through this week’s calendar and point out a few things.

First, a summary: 

Number of public meetings:  4

Meetings with agenda posted:  1

Meetings with reliably-available recordings:  2

Detail follows:

Tomorrow (6/25/2019), at 7 PM in Town Hall, the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees meet What are they discussing this month?  No clue, because the Town hasn’t posted an agenda.

And this is no small matter due, at least, for the enhanced possibility of rental electric scooters (e.g., Bird scooters) in this area.  The Commonwealth recently gave every locality the authority (and duty!) to regulate such rental scooters.  Unfortunately, the default appears to be that if a local body does not act before 1/1/2020, electric scooter is by default legal and unlicensed (presumably, until such time as the local authority acts?).

Any ... may (i) ... regulate or (ii) ... establish a demonstration project or pilot program regulating the operation of motorized skateboards or scooters, bicycles, or electric power-assisted bicycles for hire ... .may require persons offering ... (these) ... for hire to be licensed, provided that on or after January 1, 2020, in the absence of any licensing ordinance, regulation, or other action, a person may offer motorized skateboards or scooters, bicycles, or electric power-assisted bicycles for hire.

So, all of a sudden, these subcommittees seem particularly important, but … there’s no agenda, and no recording of the proceedings other than what is reported out in the Transportation Safety Commission meeting.

Tomorrow (6/25/2019), at 8 PM in Town Hall the Transportation Safety Commission (TSC) will meet.  They do have an agenda posted, the link for which is on this calendar page. And their meetings are now recorded and can be found as the very last item on this page.

I have a personal interest in item 6 on the agenda, “Street Safety Guide revisions and public comments”.  Now, is that supposed to be a presentation of existing public comments, or a request for oral public comments in this meeting?  Turns out, it’s both.  But you would have had to have run across this page, on the Town Website, to know that.  And only on that page — and not on the agenda for the meeting — would you find the link to the new draft guide (.pdf), which was only posted on June 12.

So if you have a comment on the new version of what used to be called the traffic calming guide, you have one day to email your comments to the TSC (see link on page cited above), or you can present your comments at this meeting.

I find several things about the new Guide to be objectionable, and I guess I’ll write them out before tomorrow’s meeting.  But the Town really does not make it easy to comment.  For example, there’s no document that shows you how the new process differs from the existing Citizen’s Guide to traffic calming (.pdf).   The only way to arrive at an opinion is to scrutinize the old and new documents to identify the changes.  How tough would it be for the Town to highlight the changes and make it easier for citizens to know what’s being proposed?

On Thursday 6/27/2019, at 7:30 PM in Town Hall, the Conservation and Sustainability Commission is meeting.  No idea what they will discuss, as the last agenda that is posted is for their May meeting.  And if you don’t show up, you’ll have no way to know what was said — the last recording for that Commission was for their March 2019 meeting (link near the bottom of this page.)  I can’t even find a place where the minutes for that Commission might be posted.

Finally, on Friday 6/28/2019, at 8 AM (AM) in Town Hall, the Board of Architectural Review is having a work session.  No agenda posted, but plausibly this will be further review of the Marco Polo/Vienna Market MAC project.  BAR work sessions and meetings appear to be recorded fairly faithfully, and you can find audio recordings at a link near the bottom of this page.

For me, I think the changes to the traffic-calming guide are an example of the slack in Town governance.  You’re going to get a new guide, it significantly changes the process for asking for traffic calming, it makes it substantially more onerous to petition for traffic calming, and it contains ambiguities (i.e., is street closure an option or not?  Are the traffic volume requirements hard-and-fast rules, or mere guidelines?)  The only way to know all that is read and digest both the old and new traffic guides, if you are lucky.  And at the end of the day, if you only figure out after-the-fact that you don’t like what the Town has done, they’ll tell you that you had every opportunity to comment.  So there.

I’m not sure I have a better system, but I am sure that a single document that summarizes all the changes would help citizens see what is being gained and lost with these changes.  Is it really up to people like me to post something like that in a blog, and hope that people stumble across it?  Or would it be better for the Town of Vienna to have an official crosswalk between the old and new approaches, to keep citizens informed?