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Should Worcester’s City Officials Be More Transparent When Making Decisions?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

 

On Monday evening, residents of the Rockdale Street neighborhood attended a meeting at Norrback Avenue School to express their concerns over a high school for recovering substance abusers set to open in the fall.

Although the primary concern of the residents was traffic issues and the effect that the new high school will have on the flow of traffic on Rockdale St, another concern raised was why hadn’t the neighborhood been made aware of and been more involved with the decision making process of putting a school on the Rockdale site.

This isn’t the first time this year Worcester residents have questioned the timing of decisions by the city and lack of input by its residents. As GoLocalWorcester reported last month, neighbors in the Newton Hill area are up in arms over the city’s decision to revamp the Newton Hill tennis courts on their own dime for the purpose of keeping the Worcester Tennis Club in the city.

Similar demands for involvement and discussion from Worcester locals have stemmed from the sale of the former Worcester courthouse, the near-handing over of 15 acres of land next to Chandler Magnet school to Worcester State University for a parking lot, and the call for a Citizen Review Board of the Worcester Police Department.

The repeated call for citizen input naturally asks the question: Does the city need to be more transparent in its decision making process?

“Community dialogue, and true inclusion in the decision making process is crucial for us as a community,” City Councilor Sarai Rivera told GoLocal. “Even if there are difference of opinions. I would hope that we can be the kind if city that can have productive dialogue and that in the end can produce the best decision for our city and it's residents as a whole.”

"One of the changes we hope (City Manager) Ed Augustus makes is to institutionalize openness and transparency," said President of Worcester's Canal District Association John Giangregorio. "Frankly where public state or federal monies are involved public participation is required by law. The city has unfortunately ignored this responsibility under prior administrations.  We expect the city government to manage our city, but to be respectful of our concerns -its taxpayer's money- and abide by the rules."
 
Finally, the city needs to address the neighborhoods in a public respectful manner and approach. The idea of selecting individuals to co-opt the public process or usurp the legitimate community groups or business associations is unseemly.

As GoLocalWorcester reported, Worcester Mayor Joe Petty has ultimately turned down the idea that the city needs a Citizen Review board for the WPD. In a released statement, Mayor Petty was adamantly against any police review board - calling it "unneeded" and praised Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme for always acting "swiftly." Petty went so far as to say that if a civilian review board existed, in contrast, it would take too long to make tough decisions.

In the statement Mayor Petty said, "Any such board of any substance or with any jurisdiction would require reorganization by the City Manager, would require the approval of the appropriate unions, and would most likely put the City in a difficult position due to privacy rights as well as double-jeopardy implications."

Gary Vecchio, President of the Shrewsbury Street Neighborhood Association, notes that in his neighborhood, three major developments are on the verge of moving into the area - Woman’s Health of Central Massachusetts is moving into 328 Shrewsbury Street, a Hilton Extended Stay Hotel is being built at Washington Square, and Reliant Medical Center’s “Ready-Med Center” will be built at 366 Shrewsbury Street.

“I want to know as soon as possible about any public or private projects that are being contemplated for my area. Being secretive creates suspicion and opposition. We have been included in the process from the early stages of each one. As a result, there not only has been no opposition, there has been overwhelming support for all three projects,” said Vecchio.

“The city and private developers need to show respect and courtesy to those who live and work in the area where they are planning projects. Potential problems can be averted if dialogue is started earlier rather than later,” Vecchio added.

Giangregorio said, "There is a simple formula. Take the concept to the community, engage the community in a focused conversation, and work out a consensus. That does not mean we always agree but at least we understand one another."

 

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