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Tue, Aug. 20

Critics say general plan lacks public involvement<BR><I>Committee counters former councilman's comments</I>

PRESCOTT – The level of public involvement that has gone into the drafting of Prescott's new general plan arose as an issue again this week during the presentation of the plan to the Prescott City Council.

The presentation was the prelude to two public hearings on the plan that the council will conduct on Oct. 21 and 28. Those hearings, in turn, could set the stage for the council's approval of the plan on either Oct. 28 or Nov. 4.

But before that happens, the public will have the opportunity to comment on the content of the 125-page plan. And the council must decide what to do with any issues that emerge.

For about two years, a committee has been working to revise the city's 1997 general plan in order to comply with the state's Growing Smarter legislation. During that time, the committee has conducted a series of public meetings and has received dozens of written comments.

Even so, the question of whether the draft general plan actually reflects the views of the community continues to follow the plan through its process for review.

This week, the city's long-range planner, George Worley, dealt with that question during his brief explanation to the council about the timetable for the plan.

"(The committee) has received some criticism over the past two years on not getting enough public input," Worley told the council. "I certainly think that's missed the mark. I think there's been an awful lot of public input."

Elisabeth Ruffner, co-chair of the general plan committee, listed for the council all of the public meetings that have occurred on the plan, as well as the reams of written comments.

Apparently highlighting the issue Tuesday was a letter the council received just that day from former City Councilman Tom Reilly, critiquing the plan.

"I would urge you to take this plan on the road," Reilly wrote in his cover letter to the council. "Go to schools, neighborhoods, homes, and engage the public. And you go, not just staff or volunteers, but real, live elected officials. This takes time and effort. It is your job, and you are not doing it."

In his critique, Reilly maintained that a very small percentage of the public has actually contributed to the plan.

"There has been very little effort made beyond normal city outlets to engage the public," he said. "1.4 percent of citizens responded to surveys. To call this public participation is a fallacy."

Although the council did not discuss Reilly's critique of the plan directly, Councilman Robert Behnke, who served as co-chair of the general plan committee, maintained that "without exception, everything on there has been hashed and hashed and rehashed (by the committee)."

And local resident Al Bradshaw, speaking as president of the Prescott Economic Council, maintained that the general plan committee was responsive to the feedback from his group. The Prescott Economic Council monitored the drafting of the plan, Bradshaw said, and submitted several pages of suggestions. The committee accepted all of those recommendations, he added.

If the council does get additional suggestions about the plan from the public in coming weeks, council members decided that they will deal with those comments, after receiving advice from the general plan committee.

"At this point in the process, it becomes our responsibility," said Councilman Bob Roecker, who suggested that the council should take on any issues with the plan, rather than sending the matter back to the general plan committee.

City officials emphasized that once the City Council approves the general plan, that is the version that must go the voters.

Along with the approval of the general plan, the council will adopt ballot language for sending the plan on to a vote of the public. The special mail election will probably take place in May.

Worley said state law requires the city to have an approved plan in effect by the end of 2004.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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