Viewing entries tagged
facilitation

There is always another way!

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There is always another way!

Campaigns are about ideas and how to build upon the present. Once elected, politicians ideally become policy makers, but today many of these politicians never make the transformation. 

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What Detroit Can Learn from an Alaskan Viaduct

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What Detroit Can Learn from an Alaskan Viaduct

 

Seattle, Wash, was struggling for years in figuring out how to replace The Alaskan Way Viaduct, a piece of aging infrastructure that stood as a barrier between Seattle’s downtown and its waterfront.

On one side you had environmental advocates that favored a solution focused on mass transit and bikes over more roadways.  The business community favored access and city leaders wanted to leverage the city’s waterfront to revitalize the city. And taxpayer groups wanted something that was low cost. 

As a result, a tunnel, elevated highway or retrofit of existing structures were not viable solutions.  A referendum failed and still after 10+ years of dialogue and debate, a consensus could not be reached.

City leaders turned to professional facilitators to help reach a consensus. The facilitators stepped in and secured a commitment from all those involved that they would negotiate a consensus agreement. They reframed the issue, considered the region’s needs and reviewed an independent technical analysis of potential solutions. In addition, an advisory group of stakeholders was forced to provide input into the process to assist those at the negotiating table.

It is time Detroit’s regional leaders come back to the table and negotiate a consensus agreement as it relates to the DWSD and help the region move forward onto additional issues that impact the region as a whole.

Today, Seattle is a vibrant community. It is not just a city. Those in Seattle have adopted a certain lifestyle, created in part by removing the barriers linking a downtown to its waterfront and creating a bridge between vital stakeholders who had the power to act and help the city move forward. 

And now that viaduct, is just "water under the bridge."

 

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The way forward is by working together.

In Washington, Congress continues to find ways to avoid substantive issues such as immigration, transportation, poverty, education, serious tax reform and environmental regulation, among many others. In Michigan, there also are a number of unfinished issues that remain on the table, while the legislature is on summer recess for the election. In fact, in Michigan, we have a number of proposals on next month’s ballot that could have been resolved through facilitated discussion rather than expensive campaigns.   

In Lansing and Detroit we are still discussing bridges and transit. In fact, in 1976, President Gerald Ford offered funds to build a rail transit system in southeast Michigan. Instead, we just got the People Mover and in 2014, we are finally seeing progress with the M1 Rail construction now under way. 

However, despite the progress on regional transportation, our government leaders continue to struggle in finding their way forward and their failure to make difficult decisions by compromising.

Some would call it an impasse while others just chalk it up to politics. However, these are issues that can be resolved, and resolved in a way that preserves the relationships, maintains the political differences and helps move the agenda forward collectively. 

It is time we put politics aside - even in an election year. It is time voters demand our politicians to focus and do what is in the best interest of all those affected. Work to find resolution through chaos. Respect each other for taking a position and move on to find where you can each work together. 

 

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DISCUSSION ON EARLY WARNING BEGINS

The Michigan Legislature recently considered legislation concerning "distressed schools" and creating a process to establish an "early warning system," to avoid state intervention due to financial stress.

Currently there are  48 distressed schools or districts at risk of financial disstress in Michigan. Some districts have a short-term hiccup, while others face long-term issues, such as continued declining enrollments and increased labor costs.  According to Gongwer, the multi-bill package proscribes measures for financially distressed school districts—with advocates noting—doubles the maximum amount the Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board is authorized to lend troubled districts, revises the loan’s eligibility criteria, eliminates restrictions on the Board’s ability to restructure existing loan repayment programs and removes limitations on the amount of surplus funds that can be loaned to municipalities and school districts over the next six fiscal years.

A number of school officials are opposed to the legislation, arguing that some of the measures’ reporting requirements and criteria are burdensome and possibly redundant, and would actually add to the district’s financial woes.  However, those same school officials should work with a facilitator to engage stakeholders in defining the problem and working in advance of the state stepping in to identify and implement realistic solutions.

By being proactive and engaging your community early on, you can avoid difficult situations down the road. However, acknowledging the problem and engaging others in the solution is a difficult process, one that can be helped by brining in a neutral to guide the discussion and help extract solutions.  

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Government works when governments work together

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Government works when governments work together

Facilitating an urban transit strategy in Washtenaw County, Mich. 

Issue: Expanding county-wide transit options

Client: The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA)

Background. 

Ann Arbor, Mich. is a growing community.  With The University of Michigan serving as the anchor, the city has seen an increase in jobs centered-around R&D, manufacturing, start-ups and technology. The growth in the job market has led to an increase in new construction, not just in the city but also in the communities surrounding Ann Arbor.

With a strong transit system in Ann Arbor, expanding transportation options beyond the city has been an issue community leaders have been talking about for years. For the past three years (since 2010), since the creation of a 30-year Transit Master Plan for Washtenaw County, there has been an organized effort to reach out and engage the public, community leaders, and elected officials on the future of transit in Washtenaw County, culminating in an attempt to establish a countywide transit effort, which finally unraveled in the fall of 2012, after the City of Ann Arbor opted out of the countywide authority.

At the same time, the Ann Arbor City Council urged the AAATA to focus its planning efforts on the ‘urban coreof Washtenaw County, that is, those communities where population density is highest and transit needs are the greatest. In response, the AAATA has developed a Five Year Transit Improvement Program for the Urban Core group of communities - City of Ann Arbor, City of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township, and the City of Saline – and again gained a general consensus among those communities on the level and nature of services to be provided.

To facilitate the planning process, an Urban Core Working Group was formed, composed of local elected officials from the involved jurisdictions along with other interested communities leaders from the Village of Dexter, Ann Arbor Township, Superior Township and Scio Township. The group met in March, April and June of 2013 and January of 2014 to help develop the Service Plan, Governance Structure and Funding Proposal, respectively. Each meeting was preceded by the preparation of briefing documents describing options for the Working Group to consider.

Facilitation

The AATA engaged attorneys Daniel Cherrin and Brian Pappas to preside over the meetings and make sure all participants had a chance to be heard. Cherrin and Pappas also helped drive the discussion to a closure, so that each meeting ended with a rough consensus on the topic being discussed.

Discussions first centered on the transit needs and expectations of the involved communities.  The process was designed to ensure the AATA board and local elected officials worked together around a common vision for transportation in the county.

Once consensus was reached on the transportation needs of the community, Cherrin and Pappas began to focus the groups attention to more contentious issues involving funding, governance and service.

A model was agreed upon and The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA) placed a millage referendum on the ballot to enable the funding of services described in the Five-Year Transit Improvement Program (FYTIP), as passed by the AAATA Board on January 16, 2014, which was approved in May 2014.  

 Voters overwhelmingly approved a new 0.7-mill transit tax approved by 71.4 percent of those voting.  Not only did the proposal have overwhelming overall approval, it had widespread support. The measure won in 54 of 56 precincts.  Tuesday's election marked the first time in the AAATA's history that voters were asked to approve extra funding for public transit services beyond the annual financial support provided through the city charters in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

 As a result of the facilitated discussions, listening to public input and analyzing specific suggestions, the AATA:

Developed a 5-Year Transit Improvement Program (5YTIP) for the Urban Core of Washtenaw County.

The City of Ypsilanti (August 15, 2013) and Ypsilanti Township (December 17, 2013) joined the AATA, creating The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA)

The ride board adopted a five-year transit improvement program that was based on a proposed program presented to the working group in March 2013 and refined through community feedback on Jan 16 2014.

A new funding model for expanded service and hours for a new urban core transit plan was approved by the voters in May 2014.

Changes to TheRide Governance Structure – MGF or Board member

A 5-Year Transit Improvement Program was adopted by TheRide Board.

QUOTES

“This plan really was a culmination of four and a half years of going out and talking to people, hearing what they wanted," Michael Ford, AATA CEO said. "We took a lot of time going through many areas that we had never been before, just talking to people about their needs and what their vision was for the future. I think this plan really starts to address that."

 "I think it's a game-changer," Ypsilanti Township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo said, noting a lot of people commute from the Ypsilanti area to work in Ann Arbor, especially at the University of Michigan. "It's going to provide access," she said of the service expansion. "And it'll probably continue to grow and expand in the future."

"This was probably the single most important action we could take to further the interests of our region," Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said. "I'm hoping the AAATA will continue to grow and Pittsfield Township would naturally be the next group to come in."

“The process allowed each mayor, township supervisor and city council member to come to the table from their own vantage point and participate in a discussion that is productive, leading to solutions in an area that this community has been talking about for decades without resolution.” – Mandy Grewal, Pittsfield Township Supervisor, January 2014

“The meetings were facilitated by Daniel Cherrin and Brian Pappus, who were working as dispute resolution volunteers (an odd note, since this was not exactly a dispute). They brought a fresh approach to the process, as they had no particular knowledge of transit and had not been associated with the long earlier process.” Ann Arbor, blogger, @localinannarborhttp://localinannarbor.com/2013/10/19/once-again-aaata-exceeds-its-reach/

“Had they been able to get to this point without our help?  Honestly, I don't think so. As much as these meetings ran themself, we provided an independent voice to help steer the discussion. But behind the scenes we also served as couches or counselors to the AATA to help move them forward with the process,” Brian Pappas. 

TESTIMONIALS

Thank you for making a very important contribution to the whole process.  Your steady facilitation of those Urban Core Working Group meetings moved us positively through a very sensitive time.  Outcomes could have been quite different without your involvement. – Michael Benham, AAATA, May 8, 2014

Dear Daniel and Brian:

Please accept our sincere thanks for the facilitation services you have provided to our Urban Core Transit Working Group.  The work you did with staff in preparation for those meetings, including review of prepared materials, was extremely helpful in setting the stage for each meeting.  Your facilitation of the meetings themselves, helped ensure that we got through the materials, and that everyone was heard.

As you know, gaining consensus on the Urban Core Transit Plan has been a complex and painstaking process.  We believe that your help was invaluable in achieving this consensus and setting the stage for our next steps toward achieving improved regional transit. 

As you consider future opportunities to provide your alternative dispute resolution services to other organizations, please know that we will be happy to speak highly of the value of your work. 

Sincerely,
Michael Ford, AATA, CEO
8/15/2013

Timeline

Voters reject county wide transit plan – 2012

Ann Arbor directs AATA to come up with a better plan – 2012

AATA announces Urban Core initiative, November 2012

}Discussions begin about facilitation – December 2012

First session convening government stakeholders – March 28, 2013 with additional meetings held on: April 23, 2013; June 27, 2013; November 2013.

Final session to discuss results and gain feedback for taking the issue before the voters – January 2014

Issue to be put on May 2014 ballot for voters to decide.

Voters approve millage. May 2014

 

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Too many politicians and not enough policymakers

484359_10151114446092757_1756183311_n Politics is about compromise and lately we have had too much politics and not enough compromise. Detroit Free Press reporter Nancy Kaffer recently referenced this in a recent article, Michigan legislators need a lesson in compromise.

Yet, this week, a Michigan Senate Committee will convene to see how the Medicaid Expansion can move forward in the state. Long-term road funding continues to remain a perennial issue and the issue of expanding the Education Achievement Authority and implement Common Core standards in education remain unresolved.

Peter Luke, a reporter with The Bridge, recently wrote that legislators should be problem solvers when in fact, many just use their position to voice an opinion rather than work to find resolution through chaos.

"A governor working in a politically divided government often has no choice but to concede some measure of power to a legislative chamber controlled by the opposition party," Luke wrote. "When government is unified, a governor has two choices in pursuit of policy aims: Hope that intraparty disagreement can be resolved with a civil tone and tasty carrots. Or take out the stick."

There is no about that politics is about division. But it also is about discourse, discussion, debate and dealing with the issues for the benefit of the state. Agree to disagree, but agree to work together to address the issues plaguing our state.

With unfinished business and a long summer recess, I hope our lawmakers return refreshed and ready to remove the barriers to progress and work to resolve the issues before them.

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