Friday, May 2, 2008

School Board fails leadership test - need to get tutorial from Burnley Moran SCA/Leadership students

Eighteen students from the Burnley Moran Elementary School (the Bobcats) presented a series of projects their student council association have undertaken in this school year. One aspect of the presentation was to present what they have been learning about leadership. One student stated that leadership required clear information to be an effective leader. In my opinion, the School Board action to approve granting an easement of school land to build the Meadow Creek Parkway through school property demonstrated that perhaps they need a work session with the Burnley Moran students as much as they needed a work session with the city council to develop a set of clear information upon which to make this decision.

There was an interest among some board members to arrange a work session with council prior to voting, but it seemed the board got wrapped up in parlimentary procedure and felt obliged to vote on the easement resolution before even considering the option of arranging a work session and acquiring clear answers to questions the board felt they needed during the discussion. I was surprised at the lack of information clarity provided by both the city staff and VDOT in responding to direct questions. Here are three examples of particular concern to me:

  • Board member Colette Blount inquired about the differences in environmental and historical property consideration between federally funded and state funded projects and asked if the Meadow Creek Parkway project was ever a federally funded project. City staff provided that federal projects would undergo a more stringent review of impacts, but claimed they were not aware of this ever being a federal project. In fact, a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for this project (federal project M-5104(108)) was signed by the Federal Highway Administration on April 13, 1995. Also, a Dec. 22, 1997 letter sent to then mayor Katherine Slaughter discussed the federal role in this project. It is troubling to me that either the city staff did not know details of the history of this project - or that they knew and chose not to answer the direct question from a member of the school board.
  • Board chair Ned Michie also asked if it were true that the entire linear park including replacement parkland (not land replacing school land, but land in McIntire Park to be used on the McIntire Road Extended project) would be deeded to the city. The response from staff was that it would be deeded to the city. But, in a map posted on the city's website, a large portion of this land is indicated as not becoming public land - only a public easement will be acquired. As I understand it, the land deed will be held by private owners so that they do not lose development rights and the ability to construct more housing units on their property than would be allowed if portions of the land were deeded to the city.
  • Board member Llezelle Dugger asked directly if in fact the McIntire Road Extended project has been approved for construction and could be build independent of the school board's decision. The answer to this from staff was an unconditional yes. As I understand it, the city council has several conditions yet unsatisfied to be met before council will consider granting right-of-way easement for the road. Council will have to pass a resolution acknowledging that the conditions have been met. City council passed the easment resolution with these conditions at their October 1, 2007 meeting. To my knowledge, no confirmation of these conditions being met or resolutions authorizing construction has yet been even proposed.
I have been following this project since the mid 1990's and have seen many of these documents in the city's files. Perhaps it is time to have our city staff involved in this issue reacquaint themselves with the history of this project and review their files. Then they can actually provide credible answers to direct questions from elected officials making critical decisions such as the one taken by the school board on May 1, 2008.

I believe the school board, the city staff and VDOT staff all jcould have done a much better job in considering this action. I hope the staff at Burnley Moran will consider this issue as a case example of what can happen when decision makers fail to demand that clear information be available before acting. Go Bobcats.

Graphic Source: Burnley Moran school website.

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