“Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”
Those are words sung by the character, John Adams, in the musical, “1776,” but they could just as well be said these days by Sidney officials who are charged with updating the city’s 20-year comprehensive plan.
Does anyone care about the future of Sidney?
It would appear that not very many residents do. The city began the planning process in November. The plan, which is revised every five years, outlines priorities and projects for the next 20 years.
Council contracted with a Bowling Green consulting firm, Reveille, to manage the revising of the plan, which will be reviewed by the city’s Planning Commission before it’s given to the city council for consideration and approval.
When it comes to this project, council has done everything right. But the citizens of Sidney have done everything wrong.
What have citizens done? NOTHING. Fewer than 600 residents have responded to a survey developed by Reveille expressly to give Sidneyites a chance to say what they think is important for council to address. Worse than that, when Reveille convened two public forums to seek input, 17 people attended the first and 14, the second. That’s about .0009 percent — 9 thousandths of 1 percent — of the adult population of the city. And most of the individuals who attended are members of Sidney Alive!, a recently chartered organization whose mission is to revitalize the downtown area.
The percentage of Sidney adults who have responded to the survey is just under 4 percent. When Reveille polled high school students, it got 125 responses, about 11 percent. When all the numbers are combined, assuming that online survey respondents, high school respondents and forum attendees were all different people, the percentage of feedback is about 4.5 percent.
The decisions that will be made by the city council for the next 20 years, based on the plan that is being formulated now, will affect 100 percent of Sidney adults and 100 percent of Sidney children, too, who will grow to adulthood during those 20 years. To think that decisions will be made based on what .0009 percent — or even 4.5 percent — have to say is, well, unthinkable.
We’re very concerned at the small number of adults voicing their opinions. We’re also concerned that almost all the people who have attended forums are local business owners or nonprofit directors whose ideas, if included in the plan, would benefit their own enterprises, possibly at the expense of others in the city.
We’re worried that some of the most influential responders seem to want to change Sidney to make it look like someplace else — Troy and Tipp City were mentioned often — when there may be hundreds of silent local residents who appreciate what makes Sidney unique as it is.
We wonder if the city is wasting its money on Reveille, a firm that is really good at what it does but in this case may be hampered by the lack of participation by locals. If the only input the firm gathers is from members of Sidney Alive!, could the council have saved the $40,000 Reveille fee and just asked Sidney Alive! for its ideas?
We fear that some of the suggestions made during the forums might be the wrong way to go for Sidney. We hope that council will carefully weigh every recommendation that comes its way. For instance, one idea is build an amphitheater on Julia Lamb field because the river area is supposedly “underutilized.” Should the city or its residents field the considerable expense utilizing the river area when there’s a heroin epidemic to be fought? When school buildings are falling apart? When street potholes threaten to swallow even semis? When basic city services cost more and more to provide?
Sidneyites have a way of refusing to vote for additional taxes to take care of such things and general decay is the result. It’s time for citizens to speak up about what’s really important to them.
The survey, at www.sidneyoh.com, will be open until October and we urge the 14,500 Sidney adults who haven’t yet done so to complete it.
In the meantime, we have a question for city council: Because you’re paying Reveille to compile input and make recommendations for the plan, does that make you feel obligated to follow the recommendations, even if they come from but a tiny portion of the population? We hope not.
We urge you to go out and get some input on your own. If residents don’t come to you (via survey and forum), we hope you’re willing to go to them, door to door, if necessary. Ask questions of constituents when you’re at social and entertainment events and make notes about what you hear. Place some random phone calls to voters. Make a concerted effort to hear from those who are too often silent. Please, please do what it takes to get a true picture of what Sidney needs before you finalize the comprehensive plan.
We’d hate to think that a mere handful of loud voices will be permitted to set the two-decade agenda for the rest of us.