Bill Schubart: Vermont Planning Needs the Star Model | Chroniclers
The Vermont Council on Rural Development’s (VCRD) in-depth dive into the issues Vermont faces is informed by interviews and contributions from thousands of Vermonters.
Part 8 [“Vermont must reform regional coordination and governance and advance efficiency and foresight in state planning”] particularly interests me, as I have already written.
There are several lenses through which one has to see the generation and implementation of public policies in Vermont.
Is it top to bottom or bottom to top?
Is it motivated by ego, privilege and greed, or by a commitment to the common good?
Important areas of policy and law are development, environment, equity, health, education, agriculture / food systems, housing and culture.
Where is public policy generated: in our communities, at the regional level or at the state level? Do these three geographic policy incubators support each other or merge?
We have all seen top-down mandates succeed. Two examples are Billboard Law and Act 250 by Governor Dean Davis. Both survived challenges.
We’ve also seen them fail like in Governor Shumlin’s single-payer health initiative.
Still others, like Bill 46, the bill to allow statewide school district mergers, fail.
I participated in VCRD’s community work, which is designed to help communities clarify and quantify their problems, and then work locally to create and implement solutions.
And I experienced its success firsthand. When the Saputo cheese factory in Hinesburg burned down and then closed, leaving empty buildings and a brownfield site, a team that I was a part of got together and, within three years, had restored the property and generated more more jobs than what was lost during the closure. Hinesburg had several new businesses, a new restaurant / pub and more green space.
I have also seen regional policy authorities in all eight areas attempting to clarify, implement and defend their often overlapping regional roles, policies and plans.
And we’ve all seen Vermont’s executive and legislative branches struggle in their efforts to make laws and policies for lack of central long-term strategic planning.
Unfortunately, our future initiatives tend to be informed more by our past failures than by a forward-looking strategic effort, based on what we know and can reasonably project.
Part 8 challenges us to imagine how we might design a system that neither imposes top-down policies nor stands up as fragmented local or regional initiatives vie for acceptance.
This raises the crucial question of whether we can find a way to honor and integrate local, regional and state planning to create viable social, economic and environmental policy?
I think so. Imagine two concentric circles around a central hub. The outer circle represents the 237 towns and nine towns of Vermont where citizens work together to define challenges and discuss solutions. The middle circle represents the various regional planning and development authorities. The central hub is the state.
Uniquely local issues are resolved and implemented locally, while issues that cut across regional and state policies are escalated through a locally elected ambassador who represents local deliberations and concerns at the regional level.
For example, the Starksboro Economic Development or Planning Committee would choose a member to represent them and their interests on the Addison County RDC. The Addison County RDC would also choose an ambassador to represent them to the National Trade Agency and the community development planning group.
The regional councils would each have a representative on the Vermont Strategic Planning Resource Council (SPRC) – an organization that does not yet exist – but we need it.
The SPRC would be the go-to resource for the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government seeking to understand, plan and develop policies and laws informed by the trends, data and variables affecting the future of Vermont. Their decision-making would be further enriched by the network of ambassadors representing both regional and local interests.
Five additional members focused on the future well-being of Vermonters would be appointed – one each by the Governor, the Governor’s Council on Workforce Equity and Diversity, the House, the Senate and the judiciary, to constitute a resource for strategic planning and development of thirteen members. .
As many have observed for decades, the absence of any formal strategic planning resources in the state, combined with the limits of two-year terms for governor and legislature, means that most of our policies and legislation are responsive.
What have we learned about coordinated policy formation and shared decision making?
• Top-down solutions face strong headwinds, especially from those for whom the change threatens existing privileges. Formulating competitive policies rarely turns into action.
• In a strategic planning vacuum, policies and legislation that respond to systemic dysfunction often make matters worse.
• Change must begin locally with a review of shared principles, values and goals, informed by trends, data and inclusive discussion. Local initiatives are transformed into regional and finally state planning and development councils for integration and deployment in law and politics.
We must also remember:
• Life is complex. Most durable solutions are inherently flawed and lie on complex middle ground.
• Decision making means taking risks, creative destruction (as opposed to breaking down), sharing pain, arousing and paying attention to all points of view.
• Most debates are not partisan, they are more about defending privilege.
• The goal of good leadership is consensus, not unanimous agreement. A leader gives the floor to dissent but obtains a consensus. A responsible colleague supports the consensus even in disagreement.
• Profitability always supports upstream investments rather than downstream remediation costs – “an ounce of prevention…” Allocate more money to try to repair the damage caused by a faulty system rather than addressing its causes always ends up costing more.
Conservative concerns about the proscriptive nature of “planning” can be assuaged by the fact that a diversity of voices is essential to the evolution of sustainable community policy.
Together, we can design and implement a hub-and-spoke strategic planning and development network that integrates local, regional and state considerations, informing and focusing the work of the Vermont strategic planning resource that guides the three sectors of the world. government in creating policies and laws. .