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Improving the public engagement and prioritizing Process for Evaluating and Ranking Capital Improvement Projects

From: domainremoved <Lynne>
Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2019 12:34:20 -0800

Dear Council,

I agree with Adina Levin's recent email regarding the need for a "process
to prioritize the city's important and high-cost infrastructure capital
projects." Members of the Finance and Audit Committee (and the public
attending) have raised similar (and beyond) concerns.

The only process that I see is listed in the 2018 budget document at the
beginning of the Capital Improvement section. The stated procedure is that
a form is used to send requests to the CIP Committee. (I've found online an
example of the form. However, based on what I see, the form does not
require the submitter to provide enough information for a thorough
evaluation of the CIP project.) Next the proposed CIP goes to the CIP
Committee which "performs the initial evaluation and ranking of proposed
projects." CIP Committee membership consists solely of selected staff. The
CIP Committee "meets as needed, but not less than once a year." More
visibility into the workings of this group is needed for transparency and
for process-improvement. The ranking criteria for projects is also vague.
Instead, CIP-related decisions need a decision-making matrix tied to a
short list of key priorities in MP. The public also needs representation on
the CIP Committee. I would like to see these meetings become public ones
with ample public outreach and engagement beforehand. I also suggest that
members of the public be added to the CIP Committee, such as at least one
from the F&A committee. By having a public meeting, the public's voices
would be heard much earlier in the CIP process.

To start making public engagement improvements immediately, you could
follow Atherton's example regarding staff reports! Specifically, I suggest
that Council set the expectation that staff reports start to include a
Commission/Committee review checkoff box where staff can indicate which of
these reviewed the report. You can see one example on pages 21-22 in their 2018
budget document <http://I would like to urge City Council to create a
process to prioritize the city's important and higher-cost infrastructure
capital projects.>. Appropriate for such an important document, the budget
document was reviewed by multiple committees/commissions before it went to
Council. (Their public engagement process also included multiple study
sessions focused on a different aspect of the budget.) When staff reports
do not first have commission/committee review Atherton notes this. For
example, please see Atherton's recent Resolution regarding Town
<https://www.ci.atherton.ca.us/DocumentCenter/View/5457/Item-19>Committees.
Staff might say that this step will slow them down. It will, but the change
will improve democratic practices in Menlo Park. True democracy is messy
and time-consuming but it results in better decisions.

As a way forward, I respectfully suggest that the F&A Committee be tasked
with discussing MP's current CIP process and ways to improve this process
to increase public engagement, transparency, decision-making information
and accountability and oversight.

The approved CIPs also need complete financial and project status
information, starting with the most important and highest cost ones. While
this takes time, and might slow down the approval of more projects, I
consider this a necessary step. That's because Council has been asked to
approve new CIPs without also being supplied with a full financial picture
as to the existing ones. The public also needs this information, including
those serving on MP's Commissions and Committees.

I agree with the Council comments made at the January 15th meeting
regarding the need to focus. ( I was unable to attend, but I watched part
of this meeting later.) This is needed. You could also consider appointing
a Blue Ribbon Infrastructure Committee tasked with coming up with ways to
reduce the CIP backlog and a process so that important infrastructure
projects are not neglected because they lack a squeaky wheel or champion.
There was a similar-style group formed in PA and disbanded when their work
finished. This offers an example, of sorts, that could be useful in MP. Let
me know if you want more info.

Cordially, Lynne Bramlett
Received on Mon Jan 28 2019 - 12:31:30 PST

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