Community Engagement and NRP
Last month, the Council voted to establish a new Department of Neighborhood and Community Relations and a new Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission. These lay the foundation for what will likely be a similar, but significantly different, neighborhood revitalization program and a potentially much more effective City community engagement system in the future.
The Neighborhood and Community Relations Department will function under the supervision of the City Coordinator and is intended to both serve residents directly and support all other City departments in their work to engage the community. It will be charged with strengthening our City’s quality of life through vigorous community participation, promoting resident involvement in neighborhood and community organizations, and supporting clearly defined links between the City, City services and neighborhood and community organizations.
The Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission will provide overall direction to a next phase of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program and be responsible for the review of neighborhood plans and recommendation of their approval to the City Council. It will also make recommendations on, and monitor the distribution and use of the basic Citizen Participation Services funds, and the new Neighborhood Investment Fund. It will also help guide and improve all aspects of community involvement and civic participation in the City and carry forward the work Community Engagement Task Forces recommendations started last year. The Commission will be made up of at least 16 city residents. Eight of these will be selected by the City’s officially recognized neighborhood organizations through a process that is yet to be defined by those officially recognized neighborhood organizations. Seven will be appointed by the City and one by the Park Board.
I supported both of these actions, after I (with the help of CMs Schiff and Colvin Roy) was able to grant the Commission, modeled on the existing Planning Commission, significantly more power than the proposed "advisory board" it replaced and secure a place on it for a Park and Recreation Board appointee. I was also successful in amending the resolution to require that all meetings to be open to the public, televised (when possible), and subject to the requirements of the Minnesota Open Meeting Law.
However, we were unable to convince a majority of Council Members to support giving the Commission the power to appoint (with Council approval) the Director of the new department, the authority to set neighborhood boundaries and hear neighborhood grievances.
Even with these setbacks, however, I think this is an important step forward for the City. Through these actions and the identification of a funding source for a new Neighborhood Investment Fund that will be used by neighborhoods to implement their plans, the Council has made clear that support for neighborhood groups, both in terms of administrative funding and project-based dollars, is an essential part of our City. Now I will be working to make sure that the new commission is effective; that the new department improves civic participation, and that both support, empower and improve the ability of neighborhood organizations to improve their communities. For this to happen, there will need to be sufficient funds to make sure that neighborhood-driven planning is as inclusive, inspiring, accountable and effective as possible. We still have a great deal of work to do to build trusting relationships of mutual respect and improve how we work as a city government in partnership with all residents, neighborhood groups and other community stakeholders to make this a better City for everyone.