When your priority is saving money, maybe it’s time to scratch the priority boards

With little money left for grants, and even less money for hand-holding, maybe it’s time to scratch the priority boards as we know them. Of course, sacred cows are the hardest to kill off, but it’s well past time to replace this antiquated mechanism for citizen feedback with something more efficient.

Closing six field offices and cutting the staff would cut costs- and an extra level of bureaucracy between the people and the powers that be.

Right now the seven priority boards divide the city:

Downtown – 101 W. Third Street, 6th Floor, City Hall, 937-333-2022

FROC – 903 W. Fairview Avenue, 937-333-2333

Innerwest – 1024 W. Third Street, 937-333-6538

Northeast – 359 Maryland Avenue, 937-333-2022

Northwest – 184 Salem Avenue, United Way Building, 937-333-5511

Southeast – 2160 E. Fifth Street, 937-333-7373

Southwest – 611 Leland Avenue, 937-333-8262

Priority Board Offices.

Besides requiring citizens to have to dedicate time to go to meetings- instead of actively working in their neighborhoods, the Priority Boards’ districts have never been particularly equitable- with some boards covering a much larger area and population than others. Not only that- when a group of citizens tried to redraw the borders to bring the historic districts together with Downtown in a central district, we were told that it couldn’t be done.

Instead of keeping this beloved dinosaur, we could recognize neighborhood association presidents as the de facto representatives of the people, and have quarterly meetings- directly with the City Manager, to work together to establish “priorities” for the city- and an equitable way to allocate the scarce resources.

Looking at “quality of life” issues and giving people unique reasons to live in the city- I believe that facilities like the Riverbend Arts Center are infinitely more valuable to the body public than a bunch of mid-level bureaucrats sitting over a kangaroo court of sorts.

I’m sure this observation will not be well received by the several hundred people who are serving or have served in the system and still believe it sound, but, in the time since the Priority Board system has existed, Dayton has lost more than 100,000 citizens. I’m not saying there is a correlation, but, I don’t see people moving into Dayton because we have a wonderful priority board system. But, great rec centers, or great art centers- that brings them in.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! If you wish to support this blog, please head over and use our services at The Next Wave Printing for all your printing needs. We have 4 Color Business cards starting at just $13.50.

6 Responses

  1. Gary December 9, 2008 / 10:33 am
    As Chairperson for the Southeast Priority Board I can say that there is some truth in your statement. The Priority Boards are supposed to be the checks and balances in our system. The citizens voice in what gets done. It is also supposed to groom new leadership. However, the system is only as good as the political arm that uses it. The boards have been neglected by the elected leadership for many years. The administration makes policy without permitting citizen input and this is one of the reasons our ordinances have no teeth. Often we are asked to support projects with just a few days notice before the plans go to the commission for approval. Often we are ignored completely. We at Southeast opposed the Billboard legisltion that got passed this year. Every member of the board voted against it representing 40% of the population of the city. When we realized that our input was null and void we asked them to rewrite the ordinace to eliminate the loopholes that we found so as to avoid problems at a later date. I sent a stearn letter which caused a hiccup for one month but they passed the law as an emergency measure anyway instead of working on it for another three months to take it from mediocre to excellent. The first cases of variances regarding billboards are starting to appear before the board of zoning appeals already as a result. Without the voice of people who are affected by the laws we write all we will get is mediocre laws because we fear offending anybody. Even the judges are saying that Dayton’s laws lack teeth and so they are limited with what they can do.
    Changes are starting to occur in the Priority Board system. We realize that the City won’t change to create more effective boards so the boards have to change in order to create a more effective City.

    Brilliant or Bozo? Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. David Esrati December 9, 2008 / 11:41 am
    @Gary- glad to see you agree that it’s broken- and probably not a great system to save.
    Direct contact- and building a practical neighborhood network would be more effective these days.
    I was expecting tar and feathers from you- glad to see you are running for Mayor. Forward thinkers see different ways to solve problems.

    Brilliant or Bozo? Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Gary December 9, 2008 / 1:45 pm
    David,

    Thanks for the compliment!

    Lets put things into context here so people understand the original purpose of the Priority Board system. So many people reading your site have never heard of it yet alone understand it. The system was set up in the 1970s as Dayton’s answer to The Model Cities proposal. (The Model Cities Program was an element of United States President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty. The ambitious federal urban aid program ultimately fell short of its goals.) You can search “Model Cities” on Wikipedia.
    It was in fact written into the City ordinance in Dayton so is not readily disposable. In fact we may be the only city left in the U.S. with a Priority Board system as a result. Effectively every voting precinct within city limits has an elected, unpaid seat on one of 7 boards. That elected citizen represents their precinct when it comes to making decisions about public matters that affect the board area that their seat lies in. Each neighborhood council officially recognized by the City has one seat also. The effectiveness of the system is determined by the politicians in office. If they use the boards the way they should be using them it would be an effective but maybe not efficient system of citizen participation in local government. Before cable TV and the Internet, people got their information via community meetings. The Priority Boards were the filters to the communities through these elected representatives. There are a couple of flaws. The boards are an extension of the City of Dayton. They are not independent of it. Their life line is connected to the City. Therefore the boards can be steered in the direction of the main agenda. If citizens could slow down potential progress on an issue, the boards will be ignored so as to pass things through the system quickly so as to eliminate slow downs. This creates other problems though. The one of perpetual complaints. By not allowing citizen input they can’t filter the complaints or anticipate all of the negatives in their planning. The complaints reach the city through the Priority Boards which have been geared towards a complaint system. I have noticed in my nine years on the Priority Board that the City of Dayton is always putting out fires. Half of which are created directly or mostly indirectly by the City itself. Our City has become reactive instead of pro active or pre-emptive and are so caught up in reactive thinking that they have little time to plan properly and more importantly, effectively. The directors are planning while the supervisors and lower level workers are reacting. This reduces efficiency and is wasteful. As the President of the Walnut Hills Association for the last 5 years I have helped achieved more for my neighborhood than I could ever do on the Priority Board. This is because the neighborhood association is independent of the City. If we want something done, we do it. We don’t complain. Instead we offer an alternative idea to the city workers and often do the job ourselves without too much friction. However, my direct contact with the City administration is currently through the Priority Board system. Every neighborhood association has more power to influence what happens in their own back yard than they have been lead to believe. Currently, if a problem arises, we complain to the proper city department and expect it to get taken care of. When it doesn’t get resolved we complain to the Priority Board and it may get fixed. If that doesn’t happen we complain to the neighborhood association and a bunch of citizens gets together and come up with a way to nix the problem. The neighborhood residents fix the problem because they have a vested interest in the outcome. This system, if reversed would greatly reduce the number of fires requiring the attention of the City. It would also raise the self esteem of our residents. If our Division of Citizen Participation at City Hall would start empowering neighborhood associations to empower themselves instead of reacting to complaints and use the Priority Boards as the glue that unites neighborhoods until a more effective system is devised, then the Priority Boards would not be the antiquated dinosaurs that they appear to be. The result would be several truly desirable neighborhoods in which to live. Desire able neighborhoods will result in desirable neighborhood schools. Which is several more than we have now.

    Brilliant or Bozo? Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. David Esrati December 9, 2008 / 1:55 pm

    @Gary- note- they added representatives from each neighborhood association a few years back- further tilting the already inequitable division of the votes.
    Neighborhood empowerment is the answer.
    Cutting out layers of bureaucracy will also help.

    Brilliant or Bozo? Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Gene December 9, 2008 / 11:02 pm
    Do it yourself, I say. Government gets in the way, unless you are trying to fill a senate seat. Back door it the way barry and his friends do.

    Brilliant or Bozo? Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. David Esrati December 10, 2008 / 4:35 pm

    From the DDN site today:
    “We are down to the point now where we have to prioritize,” Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin said. “Tough times require tough decisions.”

    Young offered alternatives to several proposed budget cuts that drew frowns from city commissioners during Saturday’s budget meeting.

    A proposal to contract out janitorial service is still recommended by Young. However, an equivalent savings could come from the immediate closing of the Stuart-Patterson, Burkhardt, Westwood and Ellison recreation centers.

    These centers were scheduled to close after the construction of the city’s new RecPlex. Also in an effort to save the janitorial services, Young proposed closing all priority board site offices and reducing their staffs by seven.

    “We need some time to think about that before we respond,” McLin said.

    Dayton city manager proposes additional layoffs.

    Brilliant or Bozo? Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *