NRP and Community Involvement
Today, the Council took a very important and positive step for the future of Minneapolis neighborhoods and the Neighborhood Revitalization Program , which has been one of my top priorities this year at the Committee of the Whole Meeting.
The NRP Work Group (made up of Mayor Rybak, Council Members Ostrow, Hodges, Lilligren and Johnson, and NRP director Bob Miller) came to Committee of the Whole with a "Framework for the Future of NRP" report that shows broad and growing support for three key stances I have been strongly advocating:
1. Neighborhood groups should receive adequate, reliable financial support to maintain their basic infrastructure (like staff)
2. The City should provide better support and coordination for organizations working to engage their communities, including neighborhood groups
3. Neighborhood groups should receive discretionary funding that they can target towards their priorities and concerns
This growing (and, to be honest, pleasantly surprising) consensus essentially means that the Council is moving forward with a continuation of an NRP (or an equivalent program) past 2009. This program would, under the report's recommendation, be steered by a resident-controlled governance board. This is a significant departure from the current multi jurisdictional governance of the NRP Policy Board. I think there are strengths to either option and would support a resident board, or commission as it was called in the Community Engagement Task Force recommendations, even if the NRP Policy Board remains.
There are other aspects of the report to like, as well. It recommends something I have advocated for a very long time: a division of Community Engagement within the Coordinator's office that will help all City departments do a better job seeking and using stakeholder input.
One crucial, difficult task ahead of us over the next year: finding and dedicating sources of funding for these programs. The Framework suggests setting side $2 million to support basic neighborhood capacity. I wonder, will that be enough for 80 some neighborhoods. It offers no indication about how much funds would be needed to make discretionary spending meaningful.
I thought the Task Force's recommended action today could use small improvements in two areas, so I proposed and my colleagues agreed to the following. I amended the action to require that all neighborhood group presidents or chairs and all City advisory boards and commissions receive a copy of the report, as well as the Community Engagement Task Force's recommendations, for their review and to solicit input. I also directed staff to report back to the Council in mid-February explaining the consequences to the City's "Legacy Fund" (proceeds of the sale of the Hilton hotel), the city’s present and future discretionary development funding, and NRP funding, if we stopped transferring funds from the Common Project to the Legacy Fund. Before we decide whether to keep using Common Project dollars to pay back the Legacy Fund, or save them for NRP, we need this sort of information.
The specific wording of the staff direction is as follows:
"Direct staff to report back in 3 cycles explaining the consequences to: a) the legacy fund, b) the city’s present and future discretionary development funding, and c) NRP funding, if we stopped transferring funds from the Common Project to the Legacy Fund."
Though I believe that today's action is extremely important to the future of neighborhood groups, there is still a great deal of work to do. First we need to listen over the next months to what the residents, neighborhood associations and others think of the Framework and Task Force recommendations. We have only gotten this far, after all, because of the earnest involvement of so many people who care about the future of our neighborhoods, NRP and our City. I hope they keep talking and we keep listening.