Friday, June 13, 2008

FOIA Friday - June 13, 2008

In Point Place, we have a couple of roads that have boulevards and one of them is 119th Street - just a few streets from me. It's a beautiful road with trees and flowering bushes in the median - maintained nicely by the neighbors. At the end of the street is a public access to Maumee Bay. The neighbors have put a bench out there so you can sit and enjoy the view.

This idyllic street is in need of repairs. It's a concrete street that was put down about 57 years ago, so I guess it's time. In order to do the repairs and to provide clear passage for fire and garbage trucks around the vehicles which park in the street, the city is reducing the size of the median and is cutting down the trees.

The neighbors learned of the project and the plans at the last minute, primarily prompted by phone calls to ask why the trees were getting marked by the city. A series of miscommunications and a public meeting to explain the project still didn't produce answers to the questions.

One couple, Mr. & Mrs. Nearhood, wanted some specific data regarding the process by which the city made the decision to use a black top instead of replace the concrete. They sent an email to their district council rep, Lindsay Webb, asking rather specific questions about the cost of blacktop versus concrete, the life expectancy of the two products, long-term maintenance of each surface option and the life expectancy of the entire street.

Councilwoman Webb forwarded the email to Don Moline, Commissioner of the Dept. of Public Utilities, who responded with an email explaining the difference between reconstruction, resurfacing and preventive maintenance on streets. This response did not answer the questions and so Mr. & Mrs. Nearhood made the request again.

"These are not the questions that we presented to Miss Webb. Since the one gentleman at the meeting in May brought up that 119th was set in concrete 57 years ago, we asked to see the studies that the City of Toledo has done for cost, effectiveness; repairs; trends, etc. What we are trying to understand is how the City made the decisions do this project. We are keenly aware that current cost tends seem to weigh heavily in making the decisions but, in respect of financial responsibility to the taxpayers, we would like to see more data than that. When we make decisions to purchase something or change something at our home, we look at many factors i.e. quality; cost; potential for replacement, shot term value vs. long term value.

With that in mind, what we asked Miss Webb for, and we can scan a copy of the original e-mail if you would like is; what are the studies that the City has done on repair costs for concrete street vs. asphalt over the last 50 years; what is the projected repair costs for concrete vs. asphalt; with asphalt being a crude oil product (and with respect that asphalt can be recycled) what is the projected cost trends for repair for both products. Now, we did hear at the meeting that the City was projecting the asphalt to last 20 to 40 years and if we understand this statement, that is the potential life of the street as a whole. As anyone who deals with asphalt knows the trend to repair, replace, re-seal is no where near that mark. We would think 7 years would be a high mark for that. What are the City's projected budget for those trends? One has to be cautious in what information is presented and given and this is an area wherein the City needs to clarify as we all need to be good stewards, especially if the City is to grow. We have read the potential for what asphalt vs. concrete will cost in the real time, but we have grave concerns that in the long run, it will cost much more to the City (taxpayers) to perform this task in asphalt. Another point is potential for the trends of time frame and inconvenience for the residents for each of these projects including current and long term potential. We would also like to see studies that the City has done as to the cost of heating and cooling homes when asphalt vs. concrete is used, especially since many trees are being removed."

While the Nearhoods may not think of it this way, they're making a request for public records. Ohio law and city policy govern the time frame in which a response should be made, but Mr. Moline is usually pretty responsive to requests.

The problem I fear the Nearhoods face is that such analysis has not been done - or, if it was, it was such a long time ago as to be irrelevant. That they are asking for the information which guided the decision is a problem for the city, if they cannot produce documents or analysis which show that their decision was based on long-term savings rather than short-term costs.

The Nearhoods and their neighbors on 119th Street are holding their local government accountable - and are using access to public information to do so. I hope they get the answers they are seeking. However, if it turns out that the city hasn't done their homework on the questions, I hope the residents of 119th Street will use their public information requests and lack of analysis to influence the choices for restructuring this road.

Other FOIA Friday posts:
Freedom of Information suits CAN win

1 comment:

navyvet said...

Wow...Point Place folk are very inquisitive...and picky too....GOOD FOR THEM!

We moved to our current residence (near Westgate) 22 years ago. At that time, the concrete street was in terrible shape. Bumps, cracks and holes were everywhere.

About 20 years ago, the City came to repair the street by paving over the concrete with Blacktop. Wow did it look good...and was it smooth! Life was good.

Then Mother Nature did her thing. After a couple of years, cracks started to show...then the cracks grew and bumps started to appear. Later came the pot holes...a couple of which were award winners.

Now the street looks just as it did 22 years ago.

History does repeat itself if you don't learn from it.

Good luck "best place...any place.."

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