Waggoner fence question: A deserved case of compromise?


In recent weeks, the city of Tempe announced that plans were being developed, and neighborhood input invited, for proposed fencing at the east end of Waggoner Park, one of two city-owned areas on each side of Waggoner Elementary and Kyrene Middle schools. However, some residents in the surrounding neighborhoods felt that the provided information did not thoroughly describe the proposed work, and in fact understated the fence aspect. Hearing the concerns, and in an effort to help deal with what nearby South Tempe residents had said, Vice Mayor Jennifer Adams announced that a community meeting would be held so that residents could comment on the proposal, and city and school district spokespeople could explain what led to the fence decision. About 60 area residents appeared for the outdoor public session, which led to what most seemed to feel was a reasonable resolution: No fence. Neighbors in the area, as well as school and city departments involved in pursuing the project, attended the session. The following commentary represents what was learned from both sides of the discussion. However, as the meeting got under way, Adams revealed that city officials only hours before had reviewed details of the project and had decided not to proceed with fencing. The following represents what various voices had to offer regarding the question.

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Statement by Matt Schmehl, neighborhood resident:

In the aftermath of an event failure or project catastrophe, a post mortem to examine what went wrong, and how can the processes be improved, so the mistakes aren’t repeated can be very valuable. (Actually, good practice in Project Management in general.) This process is not meant to punish the people who made mistakes, nor to hold them up to ridicule, but to improve the process going forward. The result of a good post mortem is sometimes called Lessons Learned. In the aftermath of the Waggoner East Fence proposal communication failure, some Lessons Learned are as follows:

• Recognize that the stakeholders of a project are not isolated to the city staff, or as in this case, the school staff and students.

• Establish points of contact in the local community with the stakeholders that represent the HOAs, Neighborhood Associations, even the neighborhood email lists, and possibly local businesses.

• Communication with the stakeholders in the community is paramount. Communicating with full transparency needs to happen early in the process of a project.

• As in any well-run project, objective data and input must happen to identify both the problem being addressed (is it really a problem or just perceived as one?) and the range of solutions or options.

• In the process of collecting data and analyzing, be objective and accurate. Avoid falling victim to identifying problems and stating conclusions that reference “everyone knows” or “this group or person said.” It is important to obtain actual, verified, data to support or back up such statements. In the case of this fence proposal, the reliance on the statement that the fence was needed to make the children safe should have been supported by accurate objective data rather than relying on an emotional response because no one would want to go on record saying children aren’t important.

• And lastly, although our Tempe Council members are elected at-large, dividing Tempe into zones assigned to a Council member (possibly on an annual rotating basis) and presenting a periodic summary listing of city projects to the responsible Council member would help keep the Tempe City Council in touch with projects affecting Tempe citizens.

Jill Cohen, neighborhood Assn. President:

(Based on) a phone call from my neighbor Miike Walborn, who informed me of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the neighborhood did not want this fence project to move forward. I immediately called the City Manager, and we organized an emergency neighborhood meeting at the park. We were surprised to have over 60 people show up—during Game 7 of the Diamondbacks, no less!

Jennifer Adams, Vice Mayor:

Myself and several key city staff who’ve overseen the discussions with the school district were there to listen to the residents, and I’m happy to say that the fence project is no longer on the table. We will continue discussions with the school district regarding improvements in the Park, and look forward to further input from the neighborhood during that process.

Savannah Harrelson, City of Tempe:

Kyrene School District approached the City of Tempe about fencing eastern Waggoner Park, citing concerns from staff and families about safety. The school uses the park and playground for recess and school activities. The district’s proposed plan was to fence the park and allow neighborhood access after school hours and on weekends, holidays and school breaks via two gates. The city coordinated a public meeting and survey to gather feedback from area community members about the proposal before making any decision. We received a large response at the meeting and through the survey, and the city and school district decided not to move forward with the district’s proposal. The City of Tempe will assist the Kyrene School District in working on alternative safety and security measures while including parents and neighbors in discussions. We thank all community members who provided feedback and actively engaged in the public input process.

Erin Helm, Kyrene School District:

To the Waggoner community: As you know, Kyrene School District has been working closely with the City of Tempe to address the safety and security of Waggoner Park. The City of Tempe has provided an update… and we’d like to thank the community for providing insightful feedback during this process. We will continue to work alongside the City of Tempe to find a solution that fits the needs of our families, staff, and the surrounding community.

To the Waggoner Park area: Thank you so much for providing your input thus far on Kyrene School District’s proposal to fence the eastern portion of Waggoner Park. We’ve received a large response to the public input opportunity and will be closing the survey. y. The existing fencing proposal will no longer be considered. The City of Tempe will assist Kyrene School District to work on alternative safety and security measures while including parents and neighbors in discussions.




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