Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group Meeting
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street, Carroll Gardens
The EPA was not present at the meeting. No decision yet as to siting of the CSO retention tanks.
CAG Status and Decisions to Date
Doug Sarno reviewed the CAG strategic decisions made to date.
The Facilitation Committee will meet once a month for half an hour before the start of the general meeting. The main job is to help set the agenda by making sure all committees’ issues are brought to the table. The Facilitation Committee will review the draft agenda and make decisions about shifting meetings and canceling as necessary. When posting on the website is not clear cut, they will make decisions about how that will work. Each committee will have a liaison to the Facilitation Committee.
The charter says that all members must belong to at least one committee; attendance rules for committees are the same as full meeting rules but committees have more flexibility in enforcing them. We need to get all meetings on a regular schedule for 2016.
The Real Estate committee has been renamed the Land Use committee, so we now have four operating committees, along with the Admin committee.
CAG Member: You want as much participation on a committee as you can get so if you pick one day, you’re excluding people.
CAG Member: Why do some people feel they have to be on multiple committees? It’s a sign of distrust. Committees should keep the same date for meetings for consistency.
CAG Member: We need to have a calendar of all committee meetings for 2016 so that meetings don’t get moved around all the time.
Doug pointed out that a shared night could potentially serve two committees. We can reserve one room for one night to accommodate multiple committees to be more efficient.
The CAG will hold all members to the attendance requirements. The Admin Committee identified 10 members who have not attended any meetings in the last year. Many represent founding organizations in the charter which cannot be removed from the CAG. The organizations will not be removed but their membership will remain dormant until they identify someone who can attend on a regular basis. The quorum number will not be affected (the average from last year will remain the same). Any person who has been removed from the CAG can re-apply at a later time when they are able to attend meetings.
The CAG agreed that inactive organizations will be shown with an asterisk on the website.
Full CAG Meetings
Mary Star of the Sea Apartments will the the CAG’s regular meeting space; we will look to other venues as needed. We are on schedule for the fourth Tuesday except in March (which will be on the fifth Tuesday). Last year we had to reschedule the November/December time frame due to holidays, however this year the fourth Tuesday is the week after Thanksgiving.
The CAG Vision, Mission, and Statement of Principles were distributed. CAG members held smaller group discussions at their tables to review the question of how the CAG is doing in relation to these guiding principles: are we upholding what we are here to do? Where are the areas where we need to improve?
CAG Member: Our mission and vision statement are still accurate and reflect what the CAG should be doing. However, we could be doing better in fulfilling them.
- Improving communication with the community through a more robust website with meeting minutes, motions, the letters we put out and responses to them.
- The CAG should be approving minutes and putting them on website; this keeps the community up to date and provides a historical record.
- People should be given links to EPA’s reports on the Gowanus Canal Record of Decision; it’s too much for the CAG website.
- The website should only contain material that has been approved at a CAG meeting; other materials should be presented to the CAG at full meetings and be voted on.
- The CAG website is public but there should be a way for members to communicate via a private section.
- If the CAG has a Facebook or YouTube page, how do we control that?
- CAG members need to treat each other with civility and respect.
- How does the conflict-of-interest portion of our charter come into effect? If there is actual or perceived conflict when votes come up, people should recuse themselves or abstain. However, this changes the number of people for the vote.
- The Admin Committee mentioned in December that we need to keep better track of our votes; we need vote counters, and this should go in the minutes.
CAG Member: Before we have a meeting, it’s very important to read the mission statement so we remember why we’re here.
CAG Member: The membership application needs to be on the website.
CAG Member: Is it possible to get all the previous notes approved and put up on the website?
The core of the CAG has continued to carry the flag through a lengthy and arduous process. The CAG needs to improve discussions at full meetings by having less repetition of positions. The meetings are long and we run out of steam.
- The government entities we deal with run the agenda – we should consider having the committee portion, which is really important, go first. The CAG should pick topics and invite people to speak at full meetings to control the agenda.
- We have too much presentation time and not enough discussion time. When we have EPA and DEP presentations we do not dissect the information, except at the committee level. Can we limit their reports to 15 to 20 minutes?
- Do we need to meet less frequently but with more engagement? Would more communication in committee meetings allow full meetings to be shorter and tighter? Could better note-taking steer activity from meeting to meeting? Some committees have a vacuum in leadership.
CAG Member: It’s great to have a website and keep it up to date, but unless you’re pushing that information out to people via Twitter or an email list, you won’t get it out there except to people who are seeking it.
CAG Member: At the Facilitation Committee level, there should be approval of who is going to present at the next meeting.
CAG Member: If we don’t have outside invited guests (except EPA) at the full CAG meeting, this might invigorate committee meetings. Otherwise, we get more propaganda rather than information. Committees aren’t driving those events as they originally had.
CAG Member: Do we have too many committee meetings?
CAG Member: Better communication from committees to the Facilitation Committee.
CAG Member: How do we fit in those presentations when we already have a lot of presentation time?
CAG Member: We have to manage it better.
Doug pointed out that it is important for people have the knowledge they need to have informed discussions and this is also an important function of the committees as they bring forward topics for discussion.
As individuals, we are able to secure much more information than we would have if we were not CAG members. The problem is:
- We don’t have a diverse population on the CAG so we don’t represent the community in a meaningful way.
- We don’t have effective outreach to the public, elected officials or the press. Outreach means using social media to get our information out to people, and providing an even-handed platform so that people can make their own judgments. All of this impedes our job, which is to inform the public.
- We have started to focus on areas that are only peripheral to the cleanup of the canal, such as gentrification, boat-building and eminent domain, and whether they’re good or bad. We should consider how those topics fit into our mission and vision, which should be focused on the Canal.
CAG Member: We should only have things that are approved on our website and we should be reaching out proactively. These are competing mandates and we need to come to an agreement. Are we going to put all the information up there about Gowanus or make it so narrow that we focus only on CAG matters?
CAG Member: We have a Facebook account and a YouTube page. The charter says that we have to make our info public but what about information others produce (i.e. organizational members)?
CAG Member: But if we put a clip on Youtube, how does someone know that we support that viewpoint?
CAG Member: I guarantee that more people have looked at the EPA Gowanus Facebook page than have looked at the CAG website. It’s far more effective and our website is boring.
CAG Member: I thought we agreed at some point that we would not post information that did not come from the CAG on our website. I don’t think we need to have the dissension that is created by some things going up that don’t reflect what we believe.
Doug pointed out that everything on the website does not have to mean it has full CAG support. Part of the CAG’s job is to inform the public; the question people are trying to answer is how does the CAG do this? You can organize information on the web site, and create disclaimers and make it clear. The issue is whether the community has the information it needs to understand what’s going on with the cleanup. The place they can get that is the EPA website, which does not necessarily have the information that people need, or the EPA Facebook page, which some people are on. If you want to find out about the tanks and get a balanced view of what’s going on, you might go to some local outlets but certainly not the CAG webpage. If the CAG leaves a vacuum, people will look for information elsewhere. You have to decide: do we want to be good communicators of information to the community and if so, how does the CAG figure out a way to create better information?
CAG Member: We had an important meeting in December. The minutes from that meeting should have been approved in January and shared with the public along with the EPA and Alloy presentations.
CAG Member: We’re not doing this correctly. We tried fact sheets and we spent hours discussing them. We have to get info out to the public but how do we do that when lots of articles concern parts of the cleanup that are not related to the Canal? How do we get our government partners to produce factsheets? They will be slanted on their position but it’s something. Right now, they’re not holding up their end of the bargain. Next, how do we incorporate that into our website? Should we link to other websites with disclaimers? We need to disseminate better information about the upland issues, what EPA and DEC are doing, what DEP isn’t doing, and so on.
CAG Member: What concerns me most about outreach is what happens when the cleanup is going on and there are rumors about fumes migrating throughout the community. That’s going to be critical and that’s where the focus should be for us.
CAG Member: Social media provides interactive information. Our job is to put the information out there and get the conversation going.
CAG Member: One example of incorrect information: everyone I talk to says the cleanup will never happen. How do we align EPA’s commitment to getting this done on time and people’s perception of the timeline?
CAG Member: The whole point of the website is that the public wants to view it. It should be interesting in a way that EPA website can’t be. We should have a separate op-ed page where people can present questions, answers and viewpoints.
CAG Member: We are here to defend environmental health. We should be pushing a public health revolution because chemicals are toxic. We should have a massive amount of information on our website informing people about toxins; we should not be promoting the Canal as interesting and swimmable.
Doug pointed out that the CAG exists for the community, which needs to know about the Canal and where they can find well-researched and unbiased information. The suggestion was made that part of website can post information, and part of website where people can discuss as a community and trust each other.
CAG Member: Why do we keep arguing about the message of the CAG when we’ve already decided everything should be vetted Why is posting minutes on our website not enough?
CAG Member: We don’t have the information – EPA has the information, and when they release it, we can share it.
CAG Member: We can’t really do our job unless people know we are doing our job. The website and social media are the vehicle through which we can get information out to the community and people in five boroughs. We can use the website to engage people then get them to talk to us and join us.
CAG Member: Are we sure that everyone feels negatively about our website?
CAG Member: You have to acknowledge that not everything there is vetted.
Doug Sarno: Everyone understands concerns about vetting information. If we’re going to use social media, there are advantages and disadvantages. Just because people are posting on a CAG social mediate site, doesn’t mean the CAG approves it. If the CAG wants to post, we have a way of posting from the CAG, with an approved message. The CAG could also consider a Twitter handle and have CAG-approved messages go out to the community.
Member of Public: Everyone wants to know all the information that’s available. If there’s a debate going on in the CAG about an issue, there’s value in presenting that debate to the public. If you’re just posting information the CAG is resolving, that’s a long process and people will miss information and decisions made in these meetings.
Doug asked for agreement to let the Outreach Committee work on some way of doing this. They’ll have a conversation and present it to the full CAG for discussion. Folks can join the Outreach Committee or go to the next few meetings. In the meantime, what do we do about information that’s not CAG approved but we want to share with the community? How do we facilitate that? If your committee is working on a particular topic, then committees need to discuss what we need to communicate to the public and then we can discuss as the CAG.
CAG Member: We need a deadline for this.
It was agreed that Outreach should aim for the May meeting.
CAG Member: I’m willing to make a motion to the effect that we should reconsider our previous policy of only having our website have statements and information that came out of the CAG itself.
CAG Member: For the next meeting we should print out the bylaws concerning the website and send them out to the membership. We can resume the conversation next month or the following month.
CAG Member: The better way to do it is to have someone act as a moderator.
Doug Sarno: There is little interest in the CAG in formally amending the charter. We will look for opportunities within the existing charter and the full CAG approval to promote broader communication.
CAG Member: The conversation we’re having is symbolic of the fact that we haven’t had much trust in the CAG and even in our community. We have to confront this.
CAG Member: We had a vote but that was a while ago and if there’s a way to do it better, we should evaluate that. We also won’t get to discuss anything among the committees.
CAG Member: People have a limited amount of time and everyone wants to work on their issues. How do come together so that everyone’s issues are represented? We do it here but not on our website.
Doug reminded folks of remaining activities at the committee level. All committees should work on what can be done to facilitate committee effectiveness. Committees all need to get together and figure out their schedules and topics before March.