VCRC report reflects views of city critics The Vermillion City Council has been presented a report written by VCRC faciliatators Dr. Richard Braunstein, Mark Cullen and Doug Murano. by David Lias The Vermillion City Council has received a report from the Vermillion Conflict Resolution Center compiled from input gathered in a meeting that lasted nearly three hours Jan. 12 at the William J. Radigan Fire and EMS Facility.
"The report presents a substance of the discussion that was held at the forum," said Dr. Richard Braunstein, president of the VCRC. "We tried to keep that discussion as close to the actual comments made as possible."
The report was written by Braunstein, VCRC chairman Mark Cullen, and Doug Murano. All three helped facilitate the Jan. 12 meeting which was designed to engage a public dialogue regarding Vermillion's controversial city hall issue.
The report contains no personal assessments from the authors on the feedback they recorded at the meeting.
"We felt that it would have been inappropriate to offer our assessment at any point, and so we worked very hard to make sure that this report just reflects what was said at the meeting," Braunstein said.
The Vermillion City Council passed a resolution last fall to replace the current city hall with the purchase of the Community First Bank building for $1.1 million, and set aside up to an additional $1 million for remodeling.
The resolution was referred to a public vote and failed by a wide margin.
The VCRC facilitators sought input on more than just the city hall issue. The Jan. 12 meeting began with a discussion about the dynamics of challenging public decisions.
The report contains procedural concerns held by members of the community who attended the meeting, an assessment of strengths and weaknesses for relocation, renovation and inaction considering city hall, and a discussion of why the Community First resolution failed in a public referendum.
"We wanted to make sure that the report included everything that was said," Braunstein said. "We didn't censor or edit any comments that we found."
To be more efficient, however, some redundant comments weren't included in the report. In other words, Braunstein said, an idea or concept that was discussed repeatedly at the meeting is mentioned once in the report, but not
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repeated so that other unique points that were offered during the evening could be included.
"I think we also made it clear in the text of the report that we were doing that," he said. "We believe that by the end of the day, everything that was said at the meeting made it into the report."
Critics better represented
"Mark, Doug and myself were all concerned that the meeting did not represent the full participation of all who were present," Braunstein said. "In particular, we were concerned that city council members and city administrators who were present didn't fully participate in the meeting.
"We can understand that," he said. "I think there was some degree of just learning about the process of public policy facilitation at the meeting, and so we fear that the document that we've just submitted to the council better reflects the views of critics of the city council than it will of the city council agenda itself."
He said it appeared that some people felt more free than others to participate in the Jan. 12 meeting.
"The first concern that I have as a facilitator is to create an environment where everybody can participate on an equal playing field," Braunstein said. "Everybody should be able to come forward with their ideas about what's best for the community and what's happened in the past and what should happen in the future.
"We can understand how the city council might be a bit reserved in that type of discussion," he said. "But we hope, if we do this again, that the expectation of yourselves and every member of the community would be that everyone at the meeting would have the opportunity to state their agenda, to argue their position, to forward their best view of what Vermillion ought to do."
Braunstein warned that the report can't be used as a guide to gauge how Vermillion citizens think about the city hall issue.
"It's important to understand the qualification that not everyone fully participated in the meeting," he said. "I didn't get a sense that anyone from the council really forwarded an agenda, a proactive view of what ought to happen."
Value of open dialogue
An open dialogue, with members of the public and city council members feeling free to participate, would be of value, Braunstein said.
"I think that is, in some ways, what the community really wants � to engage in a dialogue with you about what you are doing and why you are doing it," he told Vermillion aldermen.
Braunstein said that, in his opinion, the meeting and the report highlight some concerns for what citizens expect of city government as well as what city government expects of citizens.
"I think it was a successful meeting. I think the meeting clarified some of our expectations of each other, and also uncovered some concerns for the direction of this particular city hall relocation or renovation project," he said.
Braunstein had praise for everyone who participated in the forum, which he termed "very successful.
"I think the conclusion of the meeting was that there may be good justification for going forward and doing more of these kinds of meetings, whether it be on this particular project or on other projects that are of importance to the community in general."
Suggestions for future
He suggested that any future meetings about city hall be of a different format that the first forum to help the community achieve a consensus.
"Consensus building is very different than what we did Jan. 12," he said. "It is a process that covers several meetings, probably over the course of several months. It would carefully go through an examination of various options, we're going to have to brainstorm solutions and investigate the viability of those solutions."
The city likely will need to conduct a needs assessment," Braunstein said, to understand the functional and structural needs of the community for city hall.
"These kinds of things would have to be presented at a consensus building process, so you have real information to go on, and that information is widely available to everyone who participates," Braunstein said.
After the consensus is developed, it would then be presented to the city council, he said, and it would be up to the council to decide whether or not to act on it.
A copy of the VCRC report may be obtained at city hall. It is also posted on Vermillion's Web page at www.cityofvermillion.com