Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Master Disaster 1: Death By Committee

 “A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.” -- Barnett Cocks 
“If you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.” -- Charles F. Kettering. (Quotes from "")
The draft Utica Master Plan has finally been made public, giving us an opportunity to see its details. It's not like anything I've seen before.

The most striking feature is its institutionalization of/reliance upon committees:
  1. A citizen advisory committee to adopt a new zoning ordinance (Housing Goal 1 Objective 2)
  2. A citizen advisory task force and committee regarding adoption, regulation, enforcement, and implementation of city codes (Housing Goal 1 Objective 1)
  3. A citizen/"expert" panel to research current mixed income housing models and present options to the city (Housing Goal 2 Objective 1)
  4. A citizen advisory committee to create a "Community Improvement District" (Housing Goal 3 Objective 6)
  5. A citizen advisory committee to create "Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design" action plan (Housing Goal 5 Objective1)
  6. A Utica Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee to publish pedestrian and bike route maps, coordinate with transit companies and develop a "Trolly Line Trail" (Housing Goal 5 Objective 2)
  7. Establish a Food Policy Council (FPC) to foster community- wide implementation and development of urban agriculture (Housing Goal 6 Objective 2)
  8. A committee of artists and arts organizations to develop a sculpture trail (Recreation Goal 2).
  9. A Brownfield Redevelopment Ad Hoc Committee (Business &Technology  Goal 2)
  10. An Urban Redevelopment Ad Hoc Committee (Business &Technology  Goal 2)
On top of these is a committee of more committees: the Partnership Advisory Board with 6 standing committees:
  1. Housing & Neighborhood Development
  2. Downtown Development
  3. Parks, Recreation, Arts, Culture & Historic Preservation
  4. Community Infrastructure
  5. Business & Technology Development and Waterfront Development
  6. Finance and Fiscal Policy
SEVENTEEN committees are required to implement this Master Plan!  That is a testament to the lack of specificity in this plan as the committees are needed to, basically, make up the plan's details as they go along. I guess that is why the Master Plan is called a "living document"
"A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done." - Fred Allen

"A committee is a group of the unprepared, appointed by the unwilling to do the unnecessary." - Fred Allen

"A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours." - Milton Berle

"And everything is controlled and everybody is a member of some committee, because then their watchdogs placed in the committees can control everything, what this person says or how this person think(s), you know." - Milos Forman (Quotes from

[This article is first of a series that will take a critical look at different aspects of the Draft Master Plan -- Check back for more.]


Anonymous said...

Certainly a committee is only as competent as its members, but good collaborations do good things. The committees suggested in the master plan sound like good opportunities for citizens to have an effective role in shaping their collective future. The cure for incompetent government is citizen participation. These committee seem to be opportunities to speak louder than a vote every couple of years can. Now the question is, will good people ask to serve or will we all stand outside the process and complain about those inside?

Strikeslip said...

Anonymous, I get tired of blame being placed on people who "stand outside the process" and do not get involved. You are only partially correct that a committee is only as competent as its members.

To that I would add "A committee is only as competent as those controlling the committee allow it to be."

I've seen plenty of people (who have nothing to gain personally other than the personal satisfaction of improving their community) invest plenty of their time (and even expertise in some cases) on committees only to have their efforts wasted by those controlling the process or by other committee members who have agendas for their own or their organizations'advancement.

Many committees turn out to be manipulations -- nothing more than window dressing -- to give a patina of public participation to decisions that have been long formulated.

Sometimes the manipulation is so good that even the committee members (especially those that are only semi-active) are fooled. But not everyone is fooled. . . . and at some point those who are not fooled get out.

There is no point in participating in a dishonest process.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Strikeslip. That is the rub, isn't it? Participation doesn't always result in good works for many reasons. But, the fact still remains: If you're not in the game, you can't make a difference. All you can do is stand around and moan and groan and blame all the bad on "them".

Failing to participate because it might not be successful won't get any of us anywhere. The process is only allowed to remain dishonest if honest people do nothing.

Strikeslip said...

Thanks, Anonymous . . . I needed that.

Anonymous said...

Just imagine a committee of Utica's usual suspects with the power to levy taxes and fines. That's what I envision the CID's becoming. They can be wonderful tools for development, but they can just as easily turn into rapacious monsters.

Anonymous said...

Remember a couple of years ago when the Genesis group came out with all that hot air about what do do about Utica & the area's issues? Meetings were held & televised, press releases were issued, citizens were asked for their input, etc., etc., etc. Uh, what happened? Nothing, that's what. Another "masturbation plan" back then courtesy of the Genesis Group. Ya wanna know what the real problem in Utica is? JOBS! The lack of good ones. Until people are secure economically, all the feel good nonsense means absolutely nothing, except to the b.s. slingers who benefit from avoiding real problems & sloutions.

Strikeslip said...

I wasted two or three years with Genesis on two different committees. Genesis is run by "insiders" who control everything that is done for their own personal benefit. Proposals that might present some competition for those in control -- proposals that are needed to move this region to a better place -- get nowhere.

My overall impression was that Genesis exists to attract those who care about the community . . . and keep them so busy on nonsensical things that they can't upset the status quo.

Case in point. Their education committee. Everyone complained complained complained about the quality of students coming out of the education system from grade school through college. But when it came time to actually do something about it, no one was interested. Why? Because most of the people in the group were connected with the system and made their livings dealing with the problems that the system had created. All this group could muster was an annual dinner . . . to honor their own.

Anonymous said...

Committees and commissions are vehicles used by politicians as substitutes for action and leadership. If one takes the time to list all of the committees that have been established over the decades producing nothing of significance, one would realize the superfulous nature of this latest approach. Utica's problems are serious and at hand. They demand firm, creative courageous leadership. Endless committees are not the answer. Of, course, neither is a master plan of ideas without direction or true purpose.

Anonymous said...

The issue of ins and outs is an interesting one as it relates to committees and groups in the area. The repition of names one sees on various boards and committees is a characteristic hard to miss. Is that because only a few want to serve or is it that a few want to control, particularly the flow of funds and jobs? So labeled, "outsiders", are branded as negative simply because they dare question the status quo. New people with new ideas seem to always be excluded when volunteering. It will be interesting to see Utica's committees if they ever do get organized. Since they will be appointed by the mayor and council, they will, most likely, be the same old same olds. My guess is that the structure presented in the plan will never materialize. And, since the city has no where near the resources in money, people and brains to implement even part of the plan, that may not be a bad thing.