Cemetery solicited “stakeholder” input– but refused to release Master Plan

 

I recently reviewed the materials in my Crown Hill file and noticed the small card which was passed out to the attendees of Crown Hill’s stakeholders input meeting of August 9, 2016.

Crown Hill was in the process of preparing a new Master plan for the cemetery with the assistance of consulting firm Browning Day Mullins and Dierdorf of Indianapolis.  So they sought to gather input from the so-called “stakeholders” — their neighbor institutions such as the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Butler University, Christian Theological Seminary, etc.  I attended as a representative of the nearby Unitarian church.  The general public was not invited to the small gathering — Crown Hill only wanted input from the select group of neighboring institutional “stakeholders” whom they carefully cultivate. 

We were warmly received and treated to a light dinner before the presentation and information gathering.

Part of that input process was a SurveyMonkey on-line survey which folks could also access later.  It was promoted by the small card. With a graphic splash, it announced: 

“Tomorrow’s Crown Hill—A RENEWED VISION FOR INDIANAPOLIS’ OLDEST URBAN GREENSPACE”

I can’t help but feel the perverse irony— Crown Hill touts the “oldest urban greenspace” in its call for public comments.  Yet it had just previously sold the 15-acre heart of its old-growth north woods to the National Cemetery Administration for a hardscape columbarium –even though an adjacent open-field was available.

Later, when requested, Crown Hill refused to disclose (to a requesting so-called stakeholder),  the specific comments it had received from the group.  Why would that input be kept secret?

And later still Crown Hill refused to release the completed, adopted Master Plan which supposedly was based, at least in part, on the stakeholders input. Why would that plan be kept secret?

Yes, Crown Hill is a private cemetery and is not a public agency which would make it subject to the Indiana Access to Public Records Act.  Yet it is tax-exempt (and thus it contributes zero to the Federal, state, and local tax base).  I believe that too much of what Crown Hill does is anti-public and is done on the sly.  As a result, the level of community trust is poor, despite its continuous efforts to push its brand and market its services. 

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Two inspiring free speech observations

Yesterday’s post about a private commercial propaganda publication posing as public news when it grossly distorted and discredited the citizen opposition to the VA’s initial plan at Crown Hill cemetery, now prompts posting a couple favorite related excerpts about free speech:

“Where the means of communication fall within the control of a tightly centralized monopoly, free speech becomes a meaningless gesture, a useless privilege When and if the opportunity does come, one must make the most of it or betray thy neighbors and thyself.”  (Edward Abbey, Vox Clamantis in Deserto, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, 1989)

Also, this inspiring excerpt from Richard Nelson:

“Like many other of my generation (ed: a 1960s student protester), the idea of “patriotism” has not rested comfortably on my soul… at least not until recently.

I now see that our conservation work is intricately engaged with, and dependent upon, the process of democracy.  I see that every meeting. every written comment, every day in court, every letter to the editor, every newspaper article, every public testimony, every conversation with leaders and officials and neighbors, every ballot initiative, every act of advocacy and protest – every one of these things – is a manifestation of our freedom to speak, to influence decisions, to affect government policies, to educate voters, and above all to change the way our society behaves toward its environment.

With my own eyes, I can see the results of our work:  whole mountainsides, broad valleys, and sprawling islands covered with lush, living forest.  Places that would have become barren lands of stumps and slash if we had not used our voices.  And if we did not live in a nation where people speaking for the land can be heard.  Activists in many other countries have far less opportunity or no opportunity at all, to influence what happens in their environment. Because of this, I am grateful for our democratic process (despite all its imperfections) and for our freedom to speak out.”

Richard Nelson, Patriots for the American Land, 2002, The Orion Society

 

“Not much to report”, my ass!

Some of us might remember Burt Reynold’s blunt “$50– my ass!” rejection of a too-low offer for canoe shuttle service in the 1973 film Deliverance.  That about sums up my impression of magazine reporter Tom Healy’s assessment following the recent public meeting called by the Veterans Administration at the Indiana War Memorial.

On January 23rd, the VA’s National Cemetery Administration convened a public meeting to formally present its new proposed site, and its Draft Environmental Assessment, for its planned columbaria at Crown Hill.  It comes after nearly a year and a half of intense controversy over its initial plan to clear 15 acres of woods while an open site exists to the immediate east.

Tom Healy attended the meeting to gather material for his bi-monthly Midtown Indy magazine which is a private publication, funded apparently by advertising revenues.  Like the junk mail and political propaganda, it’s mailed to every household in the so-called midtown area of Indianapolis whether the occupants want it or not. That’s about 20,000 households and businesses.

As Healy was leaving the auditorium, I asked him if he had gathered interesting material to report following the VA’s presentation in which it discussed its new preferred site and received comments from about a dozen interested citizens.  His terse reply: “Not much to report, boring stuff, but whatever I decide to write will be well disseminated”.

I wouldn’t have expected anything better than his sarcastic “kiss-off” response.  Healy has consistently reported the Crown Hill woods preservation effort with an astonishing bias and hostility, and clearly taking the side of the vested interests including Crown Hill Cemetery and the Midtown Indianapolis, Inc. organization which supported the VA’s destructive initial plan.  I’ve been consistently  astonished by Healy’s glaring bias, hypocrisy and yellow journalism in the Crown Hill controversy, but then I remember that his Indy Midtown magazine is his private commercial publication and does not profess to be bound by any ethical standards of professional journalism.

Memo to Midtown Indy magazine–  Here’s the real story about the meeting, ripe to report:

The citizen-led Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors, with many partners and supporters, and with the help of selected elected officials, saved an urban forest from destruction despite overwhelming odds.  The VA reconsidered and did an about-face, selecting the obvious adjacent site which we had recommended from the start.  The VA’s public meeting was accordingly collegial and free from citizen upset and outrage as contrasted with the previous meeting in that same auditorium when the VA heard an earful from concerned and irate citizens.  Also, the commenting citizens offered valuable input on site design regarding hydrology, perimeter screening, and apparent excess of hardscape.  The public comment period runs to February 12th.