Watchdog: Questions, concerns about Antioch’s Community Cafe’s

Watchdog-LogoBy Barbara Zivica

A few years ago the Antioch Police Department, like many other departments nationwide, started holding “Coffee with Cops” chats with residents. The informal sessions were welcomed by the public because they were a two way street – the public received valuable information, could ask questions and talk about what they thought needed improving.

This year the City’s gone a different route. On January 23, 25, 27 and January 29, the City conducted what they called “Community Café” sessions, Mayor Harper saying “We want to hear from the community and get buy-in.”

The sessions were directed by consultant Stacey McLaughlin of Mountaintop Consulting, hired by the City on March 27, 2013 for a sum not to exceed $44,000 to assist in organization assessment, City Council governance training and group development, fiscal goal setting and budget prioritization, strategic visioning and planning.

Regrettably, the sessions turned out to be similar to those held to persuade county residents to buy into the “Shaping Our Future” vision, now more regionally known as the One Bay Area Plan, which undermines local control and seeks to have us live in multi-use “stack and pack” high-rise developments adjacent to subsidized transit.

Such sessions, although touted as “public input” workshops, are in actuality the opposite because the object is to “facilitate” citizens into posing appropriate “questions” and arriving at appropriate “conclusions.”

At the Antioch “Community Café” sessions, participants were seated at small tables, shown a PowerPoint presentation and then asked to contribute thoughts, suggestions and ideas on the questions posed. According to the council minutes on these workshops, after table discussions “debriefing” of the questions was held. During the debriefing, each table had a representative share what the core/common themes of the discussions were.

Use of the term “debriefing” is of concern to me. In most cases, the purpose of debriefing is to make sure that participants are fully informed about, and not harmed in any way by their experience in an experiment or from a traumatic experience. Debriefing is typically not used in surveys, observational studies or other forms of research that involve no deception and minimal risk to participants.

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