The Valdosta City Council has apparently heard of transparency, but seems unclear on how to go about it, judging by this housing analysis issue.
David Rodock wrote for the VDT Sunday, Valdosta’s quality of life: Disagreement over how to fix the issues,
In early April, Valdosta City Council members voted almost unanimously to approve the submission of a plan to HUD that would address socio-economic problems for citizens — except for District 1 council member James Wright.
“I felt as if we didn’t have enough time to review the document,” said Wright, as the 100 page document was not provided until the day before the vote.
The document in question is the “Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing” and was prepared by a Texas firm, J-QUAD Planning Group. The study is required of any city that receives funds directly under the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program though the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which Valdosta became eligible for in 2004.
According to the minutes of the 5 April 2012 Valdosta City Council meeting, Council Wright wanted to delay voting on the document because there was a lot of public interest in it. Mayor Gayle pointed out it was simply a pro-forma analysis required by HUD, and not a plan. Council Vickers said they could form a committee to make a plan. But the council didn’t seem to include formation of such a committee in the motion to accept the analysis that finally passed.
So Council Wright has moved ahead on his own:
Wright and other community members object to the way the analysis was handled and are creating their own work group to address the issues they say the city is not.
“None of us really had a chance to get a thorough look at the document,” said Wright. “I didn’t really see any reason for us to be in a hurry to pass the document at the time to allow not only council members time but also concerned citizens time to provide input.”
Wright has lived in the community most of his life and has served on council for two full terms. He has been through this process in the past but is organizing a steering committee of local leaders from both rich and poor communities to develop a plan to address these long-standing issues. The analysis includes sobering details of poverty, single parenthood, unemployment, lack of education and low income.
So far, Wright has established a core group of prominent leaders from all over the city, including Bishop Wade McCrae, retired educator Sam Allen, funeral home owner Edgar Roberts and local business owner Roy Taylor.
Personally, I think it’s great that Valdosta City Council is at least considering some sort of strategic plan. The process could use improvement, however, even beyond the issue that they didn’t actually form a committee to discuss it.
For example, where is this analysis document? I don’t see it anywhere on Valdosta’s website or on J-QUAD’s website. If Council wants public input and discussion on it at any time, maybe they should make it available to the public. Perhaps even linked into that item in the agenda and minutes, as in what Glynn County does.
Instead, Valdosta gets complaints:
Local civil rights activists George Rhynes and Johnny Robinson Sr. said they have filed federal complaints because the City of Valdosta did not allow a period of public input on the Analysis of Impediments before council approved submittal to HUD.
“I want to try to find a way to bring people together instead of being so divided,” said Robinson. “The obstacles are greater than the actual findings. We’ve got to end it here and now, get on the right track and spread the wealth. They need to make some changes — it’s devastating.”
Would it have been so hard for the city to hold a hearing before sending the document on to HUD? Or at least to publish the analysis document and go ahead and schedule a hearing and a study committee?
This could have been a victory for transparency and strategic planning, led by the Valdosta Mayor and Council. Instead, it’s a three-ring circus.
The least you, dear reader, can do to help, is to join the circus and try to make a success of it. According to the VDT:
The first steering committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 17 at 6 p.m. at W.G. Nunn Elementary School located at 1610 Lakeland Avenue. For more information, contact James Wright at (229) 560-3941 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Appended is the rest of the relevant part of the 5 April 2012 minutes.
Consideration of a request to approve the Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing.
Mara Register, Assistant to the City Manager, stated that Mr. James Gilleylan, principle of J-QUAD Planning Group, made a presentation to the Mayor and Council at the Work Session regarding the results of the Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing, which is a required process that we go through every three to five years of a Consolidated Plan. The City of Valdosta is a five-year Consolidated Plan community. Mr. Gilleylan has submitted the following final letter explaining the process: “Ms. Register, We have completed the final report of the Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice and presented the results to the City Manager, Mayor, and City Council on April 3, 2012. The Analysis of Impediments has been conducted in accordance with HUD Regulations 42 USC 3601 Fair Housing Act and in conformance with the HUD Fair Housing Planning Guide. Please note that in the review of the report you determine any incorrect information or discrepancies in terms of the data that has been presented, upon confirmation of any discrepancies we will make the necessary adjustments in the report. To the extent that any discrepancies impact our analysis and recommendations, we will re-examine those as well. It should be noted that we will only adjust the data and recommendations due to incorrect information or discrepancies and the data and the resulting analysis in conclusion otherwise will stand as presented. In the presentation to the Mayor and Council, I indicated that the Analysis of Impediments had similar characteristics to that of an audit in that the factual content and data stand on its own. Thank you Ms. Register for your assistance with this project. Respectfully, James Gilleylan, J-QUAD Planning Group.” Mara Register stated that this is the final information that Mr. Gilleylan wanted to recap and ensure that this is an Analysis and not a Plan. When Council makes a decision the language needs to be that the Analysis of Impediments is accepted and that Council is authorizing the City Manager to forward it to HUD. Mayor Gayle stated that the Analysis of Impediments is not a Fair Housing Plan and Council has had a chance to review the 165 page document. It is not a Fair Housing Plan but rather it is an analysis of the current state of fair housing in Valdosta. The Analysis of Impediments identifies specific barriers that need to be addressed if future fair housing initiatives are to be successful.
Mayor Gayle entertained a motion from Council.
A MOTION was made by Councilman Carroll to accept the Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing. Councilman Wright seconded the motion. Councilman Wright stated that there was a lot of information that needed to be covered before Council can say that they approve the Plan. There are a lot of people in the community who are interested about what is in this Plan. We have an Analysis of Impediments and we finally have a lot of people who want to participate in this and be aware of what is in the Plan. He would like to have people be part of a Committee and go through this and not rush to a judgment like we did with the Land Development Regulations which was passed and then there were a lot of mistakes made which had to be corrected after the fact. Councilman Wright asked that Council postpone adopting the Plan for a certain period of time so that it could be reviewed and then come back and accept it. This would be one of the best ways possible to involve as many citizens as we can, get the best input, and make our City one of the best cities in this area. We just received the 100 page document today and it will be hard to digest it. Mayor Gayle stated that there was no Plan in this book. It is only an analysis of what our situation is in Valdosta so Council can adopt this and it will not affect anything. They can then attack the individual things with a Committee and look at the situations to determine how we are going to act. Councilman Wright stated that their analysis might be different from the analysis of what the community determines and he did not think it was unfair to ask or why it was a hurry to do it now. Mara Register, Assistant to the City Manager, stated that she was not as acclimated with all of the Federal Regulations and that is why we hired Mr. Gilleylan because he is an expert. He is the one that has made sure that the Analysis of Impediments follows the mandatory HUD Regulations that are in place. Ms. Register stated that she did not know how we could change the Analysis of Impediments that was presented based on the fact that he has used the mandatory regulations to prepare the Analysis. Councilman Wright stated that he was not saying to change it but allow them to look at it. Mayor Gayle stated that if Councilman Wright wanted to do that then he would have to enter a Substitute Motion and vote on that to determine if it carries and then go from there. Councilman Vickers stated that this is great information and we need to use it to formulate a Plan. This is what will be presented to HUD as to what came out of the Analysis of Impediments. There is a lot of work that we need to do and he did not think that the citizens group has the expertise to come in there and change the Analysis of Impediments. Councilman Vickers stated that they need to form a Committee to work on the impediments and that will take some time. They can use this information to go out and educate the community about the things that we need to do. Councilman Wright stated that they were not going to change it but rather review the information and say this is a recommendation. It may be something good or bad but at least allow them a chance to look at the Plan. No one on Council has had a chance to review it. Councilman Norton stated that he looked through the document and this is a great compilation of information for us to start. If by chance they did find something along the way, then that should be brought back to the attention of J-QUAD. Larry Hanson, City Manager, stated that in many ways Council is saying that they want to accomplish the same thing and it is a matter of preference if they want to accept this report tonight or accept it at a later date. Everyone is agreeing to appoint a Committee and then implement the recommendations and any additional recommendations that the Committee might have. No one would be able to change his professional findings unless you find an error that he has made. Councilman Wright inquired as to how they would know.
Larry Hanson stated that the report will go to HUD and they will review it and determine if it meets all the criteria. Then the recommendations and the Committee recommendations would be done over the next five years. We may want to look at appointing a Committee at the next Council Meeting. Councilman Carroll stated that we need to carry this forward because there is a lot of information in it and they could not come up with a plan within a year because the obstacles are too big. There is a lot of work that will have to go into developing a plan to overcome some of the obstacles that are identified and we cannot wait a year. There is HUD grant money out there and it is not going to change the Analysis of Impediments. Councilman Wright stated that they do Annual Action Plans each year based on what we come up with. This was given to him yesterday and he has not had a chance to go through the whole document and that was why he was asking for the postponement. Mayor Vickers called for the question.
Mayor Gayle entertained a motion to call for the question. The motion was adopted (5-1) with Councilman Wright voting in opposition.
The motion to approve the Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing was adopted (5-1) with Councilman Wright voting in opposition.
Larry Hanson, City Manager, stated that the Analysis of Impediments will now be signed and sent to HUD and that will take a period of time for them to review it and determine whether they accept. If it is the desire of Council we can then work to bring a structure to you to appoint a Committee perhaps in 30 days.