In Focus: The Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District – should it be doing something or should it be dissolved?

If the Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District had a board of directors directly elected by the people, I doubt very seriously they would be re-elected.

It is an organization that continues to flounder with no business plan and nothing being done for years at a time. At their last meeting, they basically deferred their responsibilities to a closed-door lobbying organization. If the present track is followed, that organization will determine what will be the next project the Tri-Cities Regional PFD should do. This closed-door organization is the Brand Implementation Leadership Team (BILT) that is substantially made up of representatives of governmental entities that make up the Tri-Cities Regional Chamber of Commerce, TRIDEC and Visit Tri-Cities. Other participation in the branding committee is by invitation only.

Don’t get me wrong. The efforts of the BILT are needed to improve the quality of life and attract visitors to our community. But my concern is the public’s perceptions of the process being used by the regional PFD (municipal governmental organization) with regards to its inability to get things done and its relationship with the voters — you know, open meetings, transparency, engaging the public, etc.

Decisions made behind closed doors do not sit well with the voters. Public officials, whether elected or appointed, are always complaining that the public is apathetic, and then turn around and do things to discourage public participation. I am urging the BILT to think outside the box with respect to how it can help the Tri-Cities Regional PFD.

The BILT can’t lobby for particular projects on its priority list on one hand and then turn around and be facilitator as far as developing a workaround to overcome the institutional structural problems that has caused the gridlock within the regional PFD.

I am advocating a process by which the BILT can provide a workaround. It can serve as a steering committee to hold one or more open community workshops where all the voters are invited to participate in the decision-making process. This moves it out of the hands of the regional PFD, though they would have to accept the findings for it to be implemented. It would be a structured process by which the advocates of the four principle regional facility needs (performing arts, aquatics center, facility expansions at the convention center and the Reach), and variations thereof, present their cases before a live audience. Then in a step-by-step process, the preferred approach gets selected by this community workshop.

The BILT, if it expects to see anything built with tax dollars, needs to recognize the fact that the Tri-Cities Regional PFD can’t do anything without voter approval of a sales tax. It is more likely the 91,000-plus voters will be favorable to a measure if they feel they are a part of the decision-making process. Give the voters credit for who they are — the most important stakeholder in this endeavor. Give them a chance to hear the different alternatives, and let them tell the Tri-Cities Regional PFD board of directors what they want on the ballot.

The process would provide a level playing field where the proponents of all alternatives have a chance to present their case and know that the outcome of the workshop(s) will indeed be acted upon.

The only reason I’m not recommending dissolving the TC Regional PFD is that it is the only existing organization that can levy an area-wide sales tax — subject to voter approval. Over time, that area-wide sales tax will raise enough money to accomplish all of the projects. However, if the BILT wants to only lobby for its preferred projects, and not move towards helping the Tri-Cities Regional PFD with a workaround to overcome its institutional problems, then I think the Tri-Cities Regional PFD should be dissolved.

This should be a high priority with the BILT so that the Tri-Cities Regional PFD can move ahead in a forthright manner.