The Barber Brief is an independent, free e-newsletter and blog written by Dr. Alicia Barber on the Substack platform. It is reposted by This is Reno with her permission.
By Alicia Barber
As longtime readers know, The Barber Brief rests on the fundamental premise that public engagement is critical to a functioning city. A healthy system of public engagement demonstrates a city’s commitment to inclusion and equity, transparency, and thorough deliberation, and ensures that our local government is truly representative of (and accountable to) the people it serves.
This isn’t a radical premise; it’s the foundation of good government. And the key to ensuring that public engagement can be effective is public process—the mechanisms set up to involve the public in City actions. Robust public processes are the hallmark of participatory government, and include citizen commissions and advisory boards, multiple levels of public review, and reliable methods for residents’ questions and concerns to be addressed well before decisions are made on their behalf.
Adherence to promoting, preserving, and respecting those mechanisms is what distinguishes a city from a private corporation (or an authoritarian regime).
I started the Brief last January in response to some disturbing trends I was seeing in Reno city development—trends that to me demonstrated a steady erosion—and in some cases a deliberate dismantling—of many of those robust public processes, something I discussed a year ago in an op/ed for This Is Reno titled “Don’t Confuse Special Interests with the Public Interest.”
In short, I saw a crisis looming. And I won’t mince words here: that crisis has arrived.
Over the past months we’ve seen a clear escalation in plans being formulated out of public view and with no public outreach, the bypassing of citizen commissions, dismissal of public opposition, and criticisms by some City leaders of “swirling misinformation” about issues and projects while not themselves creating opportunities to provide timely and accurate information in public forums.
Our community—that is, the residents who actually make up the community—is being shut out.
And the resulting decisions affect us all, because so many of these decisions involve public spaces—our parks and plazas, our city streets, and even entire areas of downtown—not only what they’re named, but what they look like, how they function, who is welcomed there, and who isn’t.
Whatever you think of these decisions—whether you favor or oppose them—we should all be concerned about the breakdown of public process, and not let what’s happening be normalized, as I’m afraid is starting to happen. Let’s take a look at the last two weeks for examples of how the public is being sidelined in favor of unilateral decision-making, and how it’s being justified by those who practice and support it.
Read more about the public process and the Jacobs Development Agreement, City Plaza and the proposed skate terrain, the Space Whale, University Way and the reinvention of Reno.
Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.
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