25. Where’s the “beef” from all those “community meetings?”

I have read what pro-library folks, like Walter Sleeth, keep telling us, that in their opinion, there were plenty of opportunities for members of the community to weigh in on the library, and that we “failed to heed all the notices for giving input.”  The message is the library committee did its job and “residents failed to show up” but I’ve become skeptical that this is really true.

Jim Dobbie, council member and one of the Library’s most vocal supporters and regular contributors to the Almanac, wrote a “Guest Opinion” that said:

Calls for referendums are misplaced in this instance, where more than 50 public meetings have been held and over a dozen community meetings.

Now wait a second!  I remember when the first public notice came out about the Library meetings in June 2011.  I thought the postcard notifying us was really professional-looking:

This postcard is the first notice to the community that I received.  Did anyone get other notices that I missed?

There were these two meetings held in late June 2011.  Big letters: IMAGINE: Very casual seeming approach, in fact. It says “Drop in for an hour or Stay for the Whole Time!”  Then there was this postcard sent in September:

Seems rather bland, no specific information about where the process is.  But then, suddenly, the committee spits out a very long report and recommendation to the council to put the library in the park.  And to approve the EIR process, which by the way, the committee had already started working on in the spring, and oops, might as well approve that increase of almost $100,000 extra to pay increased EIR budget costs due to the public controversy)!

How did I and everyone else miss hearing about the other 59 meetings?  This seems like a pretty big discrepancy.  I mean, the middle of summer can be a bit laid back, I grant. But missing 59 meetings?  I don’t think so.

Trying to figure out what all was going on, I went to the Library’s modest web site up on the Town web site.  It looks like this:

Town of Atherton
Library Steering Committee

Members & Calendar

Back To: Agendas/Reports/Minutes

Site Selection Report to City Council on October 19, 2011

Report to Park and Recreation Commission on Library Building Project (October 5, 2011)

Frequently Asked Questions

Library Funding

Process to study new library options

Library Study and Atherton Library Trends

Building Programs

Environmental Assessment

Site Selection

Additional Material

Project Management Selection Related Documents

Library Steering Committee Historical Documents

Phase I Architect Selection Related Documents

New Atherton Library Community Preferences Questionaire Results

ALBSC Community Meetings on Initial Design Feb-March 2012


Kathy McKeithen (Council) Karen Bliss (Voting Member)
Michael Kashiwagi (Staff Member)
Sandy Crittenden (Voting Member)
Carine Risley (Staff Member)
Denise Kupperman (Voting Member)
Ginny Nile (Voting Member)
Marion Oster (Voting Member)

The Library Steering Committee meets on the 3rd Monday of each month at 10:30 a.m. in the Council Chambers, unless otherwise noticed. Meeting dates can be confirmed on the Community Calendar


2012 Meeting Dates

January 5February 2March 1April 5May 3

June 7

July 5August 2September 6October 4November 1

December

Quite a bit of info, yes, but when I looked through this listing, there isn’t a whole lot about all those supposed 62 public meetings. In fact, the only section of information that even pertains to the community engagement process had seven items and is appropriately called “Process to study new library options.” (I reproduce these here, so we can look at them closely.)

  1. Mailer 1 for June 2011 flyer
  2. Mailer 2 for September 2011
  3. Community Outreach Activities
  4. Focus group arts and heritage notes
  5. Focus group parents note
  6. Focus group teens notes
  7. Email note sent June 23, 2011 by Town of Atherton

I’ve already showed you # 1 and 2.  Those are postcards about meetings.  Apparently #7 was an email sent on June 23rd by the Town, which I didn’t get.  Numbers 4, 5, and 6 were actual meetings but they don’t appear to have been noticed or advertised to the general community.  These were, in fact, “Focus Groups.”  I certainly did not hear about them and there is no notice posted showing how these groups were set up. Did anyone else get notice of them?  Still, that brings the number of actual meetings up to 6.

(I have now reviewed the summaries of the Focus Groups—you should also!  What a trip!  I have to say, using these three focus group meetings to bolster their case of having “engaged the community” seems rather lame.  In one case, the “Parent Focus group,” the library folks state that they simply recruited six random moms and one nanny who happened to be hanging around the library during story time, to ask them some questions.   The “Teens” group, they  interview a classroom of Menlo-Atherton sophomores and juniors (only one of which admits to having ever been to the Atherton library) about what they want in a library—but they never ask these kids whether they’d prefer to have an extra playing field, versus a library in the park, which seems to me to be rather pointless given the task at hand.  The third focus group is comprised of a very small group of Atherton Heritage folks, with overlap into the library committee’s own members and all they talk about is how much dedicated library space they would like to have for themselves. None of these “fccus” groups talk about, let alone provide any input for the location recommendation that the group made in October.  How these even be said to be helpful evaluating the “location” options, when all they really discuss is configuration options, not relevant.  So I take it back, we are still at three meetings.

Lastly, there is one final hope: document #3, entitled “Community Outreach Activity.”  I take the time to copy this for you here:

Unfortunately, this list only reproduces the other items already reviewed with one exception—a neighborhood meeting described as “Selby/Stockbridge”, with 40 residents attending.  No summary is provided for this meeting.  Can any report what happened there?

For that matter, while there are summaries of the three pointless focus groups, there are no summaries posted for ANY of  the three “IMAGINE” community workshops, where people actually showed up.  Ms. McKeithen: Good job on the postcard design: BIG Fail on transparency about the results of those workshops! No imformation posted at all.  But, wasn’t transparency your goal? Let’s review those goals again:

  • Bring accountability, transparency, and responsive stewardship to town government
  • Create an environment that fosters respect and openness to citizens and town employees; seek input from Atherton citizens

When neither Ms. McKeithen’s Library website, nor any of the notices mention a word about the meeting process, how long it goes, what is covered, how the decision was made, is that transparent or responsive stewardship?  When people complain that they are left out on the decision-making process, and Ms. McKeithen’s own committee refuses to listen to their concerns, complaints and legitimate objections, is that fostering respect and openness?  Seeking input?  But not using it?   Like it or not, this Library project earns A BIG FAIL on process transparency and Design, Ms. McKeithen.  With those three meetings essentially being all there was from your committee, you’d think the post card could at least say something like “Last chance to weigh in on important town decisions!” rather than “Drop in for any hour or stay for the whole thing.”  That seem rather deceptive now, in retrospect.  Especially since the only ones who knew what the process was, was the library folks.

Real community engagement starts with some brain-storming but they eventually get down to serious discussions of pro’s and con’s about the use of the park and competing needs for open space.  That part doesn’t seem to have happened at all—which really makes the results of the committee worthless—since there is no evidence that any other groups who care about the park were even given a chance to weigh in.  Where are summaries of Dames input, ACIL input, Little League input, Lacrosse input, Park walkers, dog walkers, Playschool parents, etc.?  Where are the lists of the ideas that came out of the brain-storming you asked people to do?

The best explanation for where all those missing meeting are is that Mr. Dobbie is including the 33 committee meetings and special committee meetings held almost weekly by the library committee, not advertised, but promoted but which occupied committee members from apparently August, when the committee launched, until June, when the committee held its first real community meetings, advertised as such.  I think I know the difference—as do most residents.  So why would Dobbie try to make it sound like there were so many meetings with the community there?  It seems that there has been such a continuous stream of hyperbole around all those 50 or 60 so called “public meetings” that even ordinarily highly thoughtful and intelligent residents like Mr. Sleeth can start believing these fictions.

The real question is: how can Mayor Widmer (with a motto “Expect More”) condone this committee’s end run on meaningful community input, the failure to provide the community process transparency and the completely misleading messaging coming from marketing materials and members of the council, who should be protecting residents’ and the town’s interests, but who instead are very artfully attempting to convince residents that their frustration over not having any input on the project was their fault in the first place?

 

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