Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Reliable Unreliability: AECOM, ARGUS, and the parody of Civic Responsibility in Sarasota County, FL

The AECOM report on Fiscal Neutrality Methodology offers this interesting disclaimer:

This document was prepared solely for the use by the Client. No party may rely on this report except the Client or a party so authorized by AECOM in writing (including, without limitation, in the form of a reliance letter). Any party who is entitled to rely on this document may do so only on the document in its entirety and not on any excerpt or summary. Entitlement to rely upon this document is conditioned upon the entitled party accepting full responsibility and not holding AECOM liable in any way for any impacts on the forecasts or the earnings from (project name) resulting from changes in "external" factors such as changes in government policy, in the pricing of commodities and materials, price levels generally, competitive alternatives to the project, the behaviour of consumers or competitors and changes in the owners’ policies affecting the operation of their projects. 

This hilarious spectacle of a consultant backing away from its own product comes after a series of hedges and admonitions early in the paper that repeatedly express skepticism about the very possibility of coming up with a reliable methodology. What comes across most emphatically in the AECOM report is that Fiscal Neutrality Methodology -- and in particular, the AECOM presentation to the Sarasota County Commission about it -- are what the term "unreliable" was invented to mean.

Sarasota Taxpayers paid how much for this?

Last year, when the County was choosing AECOM and planning a series of meetings with the new consultant, a group of residents asked to be included in the meetings. The idea was to avoid what has happened so often in the past: The County meets with representatives of only one side of a countywide civic issue that has at least two sides, and they hash out a "plan," which is then presented as if it were somehow the distilled brainstorm of all of the people (see, for example, what happened with the revisions to the 2050 plan.)

Citizens for Sarasota County asked that one or two residents be included so that actual people would have a voice in the process. It would have brought an added perspective, they argued. Instead, we the people have the opportunity on July 8, 2015, to kill a few minutes speaking in a hearing after all was "worked out" to the satisfaction of County staff, its "Unreliable 'R' Us" consultants, and the developers to whom their bosses owe their loyalty.

Of course the citizens' request to participate was denied -- for reasons yet to be distinctly made clear.

What is clear, on the other hand, is that the developer + finance + construction sector of the Sarasota economy has a strong and intimate relationship to the outcome of the AECOM decision: One Commissioner, Christine Robinson, is also the salaried executive director of the Developer-Driven Argus Foundation. The other four Commissioners have only offered silence when the community sought to challenge the legitimacy of a public official simultaneously required to execute the business of a private lobbying group.

Perhaps the most reliable thing to come out of any hearing about AECOM's Fiscal Neutrality Guidance document is that the Community had no say in the development of its proposals, and will have no influence over their adoption. This in fact is how things work when what you have is the very definition of an oligarchy.

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