Task forces, ad hoc committees, blue ribbon commissions. All are hallmarks of government in the United States, although they often get less respect than Rodney Dangerfield.
They labor for months, maybe years, producing reports that, as cynics love to point out, wind up forgotten and dust-covered on archive shelves. But those oft-derided reports usually represent the work of thoughtful, knowledgeable and public-spirited citizens who answered a call to service and gave extended time and conscientious effort to the job.
Such a report, from the Mayor’s Task Force on Sustainability, is now before the Spokane City Council, where it has provoked a needlessly contentious squabble.
Mayor Mary Verner appointed the 13-member task force about a year ago, the idea being to identify ways the city can be smart about the consumption of energy and natural resources. The same issue is under examination in community after community. The National League of Cities recently held a Green Cities Conference in Portland.
Augmenting Spokane’s task force during the past year were the efforts of dozens of other residents who participated on work groups and as “outreach partners.” So much effort by such a broad range of engaged community members should not be dismissed out of hand, certainly not on the basis of suspicious speculation about motives.
There’s a dispute going on over whether the City Council should accept the task force’s thick report. Some skeptics have gone through it with a nit comb, looking for signs of a one-world conspiracy.
It didn’t have to be this complicated.
The task force could have saved everyone a lot of anguish if it had just slipped seven copies of the report in seven envelopes and mailed them to the council members. But it opted for the formality of presenting the finished product to the City Council to be received, in task force Chairman Roger Woodworth’s words, “as the framework to guide the City’s forward plans and operations.”
Some of the report no doubt is reasonable and worthy of being part of such a framework. Some of it no doubt is not. And there is plenty that is so abstract and technically phrased as to demand more clarity.
But the City Council is free to craft its own motion. Nothing prevents the members from receiving the report on a no-promises basis, acknowledging the civic work of the participants and taking their own time to scour the recommendations for the best ideas.
It would be reckless of the council to give the report’s findings its blanket endorsement. It would be mindless to reject earnest citizens’ work product on the say-so of conspiracy theorists.