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Lane County falls short on citizen involvement.

Byline: Dennis Sandow For The Register-Guard

I served on the Lane County Planning Commission from 2010 to 2014. The commission is under the administration of Lane County's Land Management Division and refers to Oregon Statewide Planning Goals and Guidelines when making recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners on land use issues.

Goal 1, "citizen involvement," is the first of Oregon's 19 land-use goals and guidelines because extensive citizen participation has been the hallmark of the state's planning program from the outset.

In an April 13 guest viewpoint, I said that Lane County is not complying with Goal 1. I submitted testimony to the Board of County Commissioners substantiating this claim for the board's April 19 review of the Planning Commission's annual report. I now intend to provide feedback on the presentation made by the manager of the Lane Management Division and two members of the Planning Commission, and the Board of Commissioners' response. I believe this will illustrate the status of Lane County's position on citizen involvement.

The Lane County code (Order 97-10-21-2) requires an annual plan from the Planning Commission, which also serves as the Citizen Involvement Committee. The plan must "provide an analysis on how well the community's needs are being met" and "provide a report on citizen participation and suggestions for improvement."

To comply with Oregon administrative rule 660-015-000(1), Lane County must ensure that "adequate human, financial and informational resources shall be allocated for the citizen involvement program." The annual plan presented on April 19, like those of past years, did not present an analysis, suggestions for improvement or the resources allocated for the citizen involvement program. Even though I submitted testimony to the board in advance, it didn't even bring up these lawful criteria.

Here are some statements about citizen involvement taken from the 27- minute presentation to the board that I believe act as roadblocks to achieving citizen involvement in Lane County:

"Public participation is important to us. When we have big projects, we take the time to do outreach." This sentiment is to be applauded, but it is insufficient. Such sentiments do not take the place of the annual plan of Citizen Involvement Committee.

"Our website is fairly robust and includes public meeting agendas, schedules and minutes." Currently, the Board of County Commissioners and advisory committee calendar of scheduled meetings shows no Lane County Planning Commission meeting for the remainder of 2016.

"We could do more if resources were available." The law requires that adequate resources be allocated for citizen involvement. The amount of resources available for citizen involvement has never been reported, so we cannot know what's available or if more could be done.

"A bylaws committee of the Planning Commission has made sure that citizen participation is at the forefront of discussions." The work of the bylaws committee is not available on the county website.

"The Citizen Involvement Committee cannot meet because it would require additional staff time." First of all, the county is required to ensure that the committee has adequate resources for citizen involvement. This is established by law. Second, nothing in Oregon administrative rules or the Lane County code requires that staff attend Citizen Involvement Committee meetings or write its annual plan. The committee is free to operate on its own and not be subjected to Lane County's bureaucratic management structure.

Yet in response to the Planning Commission's report, members of the Board of County Commissioners were effusive in their praise: "Great report." "You put in long hours." "Lane County goes further than most counties."

Such sentiments are no substitute for Oregon administrative rules or the Lane code. This reveals a contradiction: While Lane County expects taxpayers to comply with land use laws, neither our elected officials nor their administrative staff follow state and county laws governing citizen involvement.

I am not seeking an extraordinary level of citizen involvement effort - just simple compliance with the law. Compliance with Goal 1 is good policy. It provides an annual analysis of how our community is being served, and brings forth suggestions for improving citizen involvement. It is not complex, nor does it require a significant investment of time or money.

Dennis Sandow of Eugene, a small business owner who studies social collaboration and well-being in business and governmental organizations, served on the Lane County Planning Commission from 2010 to 2014.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Jun 21, 2016
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