Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Linc-O-Meter

Develop master plan for use of state-owned property


"Development of a Master Property Utilization Plan that will clearly and transparently lay out a new vision for state-owned properties. This plan will conceive of the Pastore Complex in Cranston as a centrally located, mass-transit-accessible 'government services mall,' supported by three regional hubs in Blackstone Valley, Bristol County and South County."


Updates

Can't have a 'master plan' without putting it in writing

In July 2010, during his successful campaign for governor, Lincoln D. Chafee stood in front of a dilapidated building in the state"s Pastore Complex, in Cranston,  to announce a "three-pronged plan” to eliminate "irresponsible waste and needless inefficiency” in state building usage.

The first prong called for renovating the Cranston Street Armory (a promise that we previously rated In the Works). The second prong called for reviewing state leases (a promise previously rated Promise Kept).

The third prong, which we will focus on now, called for "development of a master property utilization plan that will clearly and transparently lay out a new vision for state-owned properties.”

In a July 26, 2010 news release,Chafee said, "This plan will conceive of the Pastore Complex in Cranston as a centrally located, mass-transit-accessible 'government services mall,' supported by three regional hubs in Blackstone Valley, Bristol County and South County.”

When we asked the Chafee administration recently about the master plan, they referred us to Ronald N. Renaud, executive director of the state Department of Administration. He talked in detail about the renovation and demolition projects that the state has undertaken at the Pastore Complex and other state properties, and he said the state has saved millions of dollarsby getting out of leases with private property owners and instead using state-owned buildings.

But where is the master plan? "There is nothing in writing per se,” Renaud said. "Is there one document, a Bible, for all this? That doesn"t exist per se. It"s ongoing.”

He said state officials did consider writing a master plan at one point but found it could cost up to $1 million. "If we did that, that would have changed three times in the last three years, and it would have been a waste of the taxpayers" money. We would have paid some fancy consultant to tell us what we already know,” he said.

While "there is no document saying Step 1, Step 2, what we have is a vision,” Renaud said, articulating a vision that reflected Chafee"s plan for the Pastore Complex and regional hubs.

Chafee"s spokeswoman, Christine Hunsinger, argued that the state can have a master plan without putting it in writing. "You are being really provincial in saying, ‘Show me the plan," ” she told us.

For perspective, we called Scott Wolf, executive director of Grow Smart Rhode Island, a nonprofit that advocates for sustainable economic growth. He said his group was pleased when Chafee called for a state properties master plan. But, he said, "It is pretty unusual to have a master plan without it being in writing.”

The reasons for putting a master plan down on paper are obvious. "You want to put it in writing so it is more easily implemented and there is more buy-in from more groups that are required to make implementation successful,” Wolf said. "It makes it more systematic and transparent and the whole thing more broad-based.”

Wolf, a board member of the State Planning Council, said every community in the state is required by law to have a local comprehensive plan addressing issues of land use, transportation and housing. "And that is definitely a written document,” he said.

What would state officials say if local leaders told them that their local comprehensive plans weren"t in writing but that they did have a comprehensive vision in their heads? "I think they would say that"s not adequate,” Wolf said.

Then we heard from Richard A. Licht, Chafee"s director of administration, who said the administration does not have a written master plan right now. "But we are working on it,” he said. "We don"t have it yet, but we are creating it. We will eventually have something in writing.”

Licht, who is chairman of the State Planning Council, said state officials are already analyzing which departments belong where and which buildings should be renovated or demolished. But, he said, "Writing down what we are going to do, how many people are there, the approximate cost -- that is something we have to do. We need to put it in one place so people can see it and understand it and comment on it.”

Licht said he hopes the administration will complete a Pastore Complex master plan by springtime, and he hopes to have a master plan for all state properties by the end of 2013.

After hearing from Licht, we heard from yet another administration official. Kelly K. Mahoney, Governor Chafee"s director of policy, made an argument that neither Renaud, Hunsinger nor Licht had made, saying the state"s annual capital budget, which includes a five-year capital improvement plan, is in effect a master plan for state properties. "From a policy perspective, the rubber meets the road on where you are making your investments,” she said.

But Wolf said the capital budget is "much broader than just a master plan for state-owned properties.” Indeed, the capital budget delves into everything from RIPTA buses to the DMV computer system. Plus, governors propose a capital budget every year, including the year that candidate Chafee held his news conference calling for a master plan.

Our ruling

As a candidate for governor, Lincoln Chafee promised to develop a master plan that would "clearly and transparently lay out a new vision for state-owned properties.” While Chafee"s administration is clearly taking action on state leases and analyzing how best to use state property, it"s also clear that state officials are not clear on what the master plan is, whether it"s in writing, or even whether it needs to be in writing.

If a genuine master plan blooms in springtime, we can revisit this ruling. But for now, it"s Promise Broken.

Sources:

Interview, Ronald N. Renaud, executive director, Department of Administration, Dec. 7, 2012.

Interview, Christine Hunsinger, governor"s spokeswoman, Dec. 10, 2012

Interview, Richard A. Licht, director, Department of Administration, Dec. 10, 2012

Interview, Scott Wolf, executive director, Grow Smart Rhode Island, Dec. 10, 2012.

Interview, Kelly K. Mahoney, Governor Chafee"s director of policy, Dec. 11, 2012.

Chafee for Governor news release, "Chafee identifies significant savings opportunity in state building usage,” July 26, 2010

State of Rhode Island Fiscal year 2013 Capital Budget