SDM finally got some time to watch the November 4th village council meeting. Long story short: it was a bad night for Village Manager Ron Williams and his already cracking credibility.
Permit SDM to set the stage. At each council meeting, the manager takes some time to update the council on projects and issues he deems important. On Monday night, the manager decided to use some of his time for a presentation on the Downtown Redevelopment Task Force (DRTF). More specifically, the manager was trying to control the discussion on the traffic study SDM highlighted in an earlier post (PB: Franjo Work Begins – Has Ground Work Been Laid?).
After Mr. Williams made some comments followed by additional remarks by Ed Silva, the village’s Director of Building and Capital Projects Department (and designated spear catcher), Councilman Tim Schaffer gently urged that the council be brought up to speed on the task force’s activities. The Marathon Man had an unmistakable message: some of us up here feel left out of the loop and we should be your champions.
Because subtlety rarely works in the village, Vice Mayor Dubois decided to take a more direct approach and demanded to know the assumptions behind the proposal to spend $39,725 on the downtown traffic study.
But before we get to the fireworks, SDM decided to go back and pull up our archived copy of the item to find out the purpose of the traffic study:
The purpose of this request for proposals is to identify a consultant to study the impacts of some of the downtown Palmetto Bay street closures on the surrounding roadway network and intersections based on the new design being planned for Downtown Redevelopment Task Force (DRTF) preliminary project area.
The consultant’s role will be to identify potentially significant traffic impacts, possible mitigation measures for those impacts, evaluate any changes to the circulation network proposed by a high density residential development along SW 97th Avenue between Hibiscus Street and SW 184th Street and evaluate how the DRTF project will affect traffic operations, turn movements permitted to and from the various sites to be developed, locations of nearby traffic signals, and proposed roadway closures. (Emphasis added by SDM.)
SDM reads this project description as forward-looking and based on some pretty specific assumptions, but then again, SDM reads the words that are actually written on the paper like the Vice Mayor apparently does. Oh how wrong we were!
After Mr. Dubois’s comments, Mr. Williams decided he would set the record straight…or, rather to muddle the matter until his deputy could bail him out. In their own words:
Williams: (1:19:49) Secondarily, this obviously has to relate to the “what is” situation… We are planning a project; we have not started working on a project. There are a number of plans that will have to come before you that will result in the development of a plan direction. These are not off-the-shelf items. … I think the council grabbed that when we made these earlier presentations, but we’ve got folks that’s working on planning this process and an integral part of that is the traffic situation so that we know where we need to go from there.
Dubois: Are you saying this is a study of existing traffic today or future expected traffic after the development is done or at some phase of the development?
Silva: And what the level of service that those streets can support.
Dubois: But aren’t we rebuilding the whole downtown with $3 million worth of new infrastructure for streets and…
Silva: Vice Mayor, I wish the $3 million would be able to allow us to build the infrastructure for the whole new downtown but unfortunately that’s not the case. This…
Williams: I don’t think we’ve ever presented that number. I’m not sure where you get that number from.
Dubois: Well, it was close to $3 million that we talked about during the budget process that would be used for this downtown redevelopment project this year. $2.6 or something to that effect…we had $1 million of new funding and we had $1.6 million of leftover (or $1.8) or something in that range…it was over $2 million…
Williams: That’s my point. Let’s not guess at what the numbers are. We’re bringing you back a plan…
Dubois: I’m not here to play games. These are serious questions…legitimate questions to ask…
Williams: And we want to present factual data. We don’t want to try to duck and dodge from accusations with no firm basis.
Dubois: There aren’t any accusations. I’m trying to find out why we are spending $40,000 to analyze traffic in an area that is going to change 100% from where it is today and you’re telling me that this traffic study is for the traffic patterns of today. And what I’m saying is…and I would have assumed by reading this that it was a traffic study for some anticipated development in the area based on the task force plans.
Silva: Vice Mayor, so I can clarify this. This is a combination. This is going to capture what we have today. However, it does take into account certain assumptions going forward that we have to understand. If some of these assumptions were to go through…if we were to close some of these streets, what’s the impact on the current streets that are going to stay open and not? Those numbers are the ones that are really going to be able to tell us in terms of planning what we can and cannot support in terms of level of service for these streets. This traffic study goes in conjunction with the planning side. You can’t do one without the other. We can’t do planning and come forward and say if we are going to do “X” amount of units when the street patterns are only going to support “Y.” We need to know what the street patterns are going to support so we also understand exactly what kind of density we are going to have eventually in the downtown area. Because the last thing we want to do is be in front of this council and say we did a great planning study guys but we don’t have the level of service in the street so therefore we are going to have to either widen all the streets or have to live with a level of service that’s horrendous for the residents. That’s the last thing that the RTF is trying to do.
Dubois: That’s a different answer than I was given by the manager that this is to include future impact issues and I’m going to get back to my point that I was making earlier that I want to see a few months in a row of COW meetings with explanation in detail of exactly what we are doing in this downtown development area before we invest in studies that make assumptions that we haven’t agreed upon yet as a council. Maybe you’ve agreed upon them as a task force – or the manager and the task force have agreed – but I haven’t seen this stuff. I’ve been asking for it for six months now in the form of our COW meetings because this forum is not adequate to be spending an hour which is I think the bare minimum we need to talk about the downtown redevelopment plans each month in order to get a good feeling and a good idea of what this whole program is about because I don’t have that feeling yet.
Later in the meeting, Mr. Williams began counting heads and decided to withdraw the traffic study so that it could be brought back at a later date. But before he pulled the item, the manager stumbled upon why the council was resisting his push for the study:
Williams: (2:28:55)So I guess, if I understand your answer, it’s…you would like to not proceed with any planning until you feel comfortable with the broader scope…I’m just trying to…I don’t want to bring these items…let me finish please…I don’t want to bring these items – be they $25,000 or $20,000 – to you if you’re not ready to…or you’re not fully briefed where we’re trying to go. So, I just want to know so that I don’t have staff working on these items until we know that you are fully up-to-speed on where we are trying to go.
SDM has seen this movie before and our guts are telling us there’s a back story here. The manager put forward an item that assumes a future “high density residential development along SW 97th Avenue between Hibiscus Street and SW 184th Street.” Yet, when pressed by Vice Mayor Dubois, he characterizes the traffic study as a look at the traffic situation in the Triangle today.
SDM Wonders: What exactly is going on here? Hmmm…
Our village needs some good development in the Triangle, but we have to go about doing the project the right way. Did the task force make up out of whole cloth this high density development (which SDM would support, by the way)? Or, is someone proposing a project that the council has not been briefed on?
It’s pretty obvious that Mr. Williams failed to lay the proper groundwork for the traffic study proposal, which surprises SDM a little given the length of his tenure here. A basic principle of city management in a strong manager form of government is that the council has to be kept in the loop if a manager is going to get the votes he needs. That Mr Williams seems to have forgotten a basic management rule is surprising, but it was his answer to Mr. Dubois’s question that truly shocked us.
This blog has taken Mr. Williams to task on a number of occasions, but this is the first instance we can recall where he answered a specific question with a blatantly false answer. The traffic study item clearly contemplated a study of future traffic patterns based on a hypothetical development concept. Instead of admitting this fact, the manager said the study was a look at today’s traffic patterns, which is a demonstrably untrue statement.
But don’t let us be the judge and jury. Do you think the manager lied to the council?
SDM Says: We can’t escape the feeling that somebody isn’t being fully transparent at village hall and Mr. Williams is standing directly in the firing line. As Ricky said to Lucy, (Mr. Williams) you’ve got some splainin’ to do.