E-DEMOCRACY | Diversity on Minneapolis boards and commissions — and why it’s tough to get

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Matt Perry:  

The City’s Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) Department’s recent study of diversity across all dimensions on the city’s boards and commissions shows significant work remains to be done. This is underscored by the report’s findings that while the actions completed to date have significantly increased the applicant pool, there has been no “overall effective change in the diversity of people serving on the City’s boards and commissions”. 

Some of the actions recommended by the NCR department such as increasing city staff involvement in the appointment and recruitment process are worthy of further consideration, but will only take the city part way in having our city boards and commissions be reflective of the population of the city. As noted in the report, “These boards and commissions represent a key component of community engagement activities in regard to City actions and decision making.” 

Supporting cultural community groups in developing capacity building programs for under-engaged and historically under-represented communities is a critical step needed to increasing community participation in the civic governance of the City.  Link to report: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@ncr/documents/webcontent/wcms1p-096020.pdf 

 

Ron Leurquin:

Matt  Its nice to see the city atempting to include typically excluded communities in things. 

But over the last few years Mpls CC and Mayor have not been all that willing to include any kind of actual citizen participation.  It got rid of NRP and replaced it with something far less inclusive or functional. 

It tried to get rid of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, and failing that made an end run and basically castrated its ability to do anything. 

Then just recently they managed to do an end run around the charter to exclude the citizens of Mpls a viote on the funding of a stadium.  Regardless of the letgality fo what they did, that RT felt a need to include and exclusion of the charter in the law makes it quite clear to me HE KNEW the RIGHT THING to do was hold a vote. 

I was on CLIC for several years, lots of work review ing things and the group formulating its recomendations.  The recomendations were typically altered to include/exclude a few pet projects, but left fairly intact.  I felt honored to be on that committee, but knowing how often we ‘kept in mind something being a pet project’ made me a bit sick at times. 

If Mpls really wants its citizens to step up and give of thier time, typically with little or no compensation, then it should do a better job of listening to those citizens. Thats not to say the CC and Mayor need to do as the committees say, but there should be some evidence after the fact that the recomendations of the committee mattered in what ever the final decisions are. 

right now, were I still living in Mpls, I would have resigned from CLIC over my concil memebers about face on the stadium issue.  She is allowed her stnace, but her explanation falls flat IMHO.  Only time will tell if the stadium was a good thing or bad thing, and unfortunatley for future generations the people that made it happen won’t be in office to praise or vilify for thier actions. 

 

Connie Sullivan

This is the second time, I believe, that NCR or the City Council has done a survey of board and commission appointees to see how diverse they are. They’re less diverse than ever, it seems. 

Again, only half the members of said boards and commissions responded, so the survey data are squishy at best and invalid to most scientific purposes. The city knows who all these people are, regularly sends them information through mail or email, and can easily badger them to give answers to simple demographic questions. Obviously and curiously, though, these appointees have again chosen, rather massively, to ignore the city’s requests. For a self-selected elite, that’s pretty unimpressive, or impressive, depending on how you see it. 

Again, however, this whole survey does nothing for the city. It is NCR and Minneapolis looking at its own bellybutton. An inside look at inside people and processes, worried about who they are and how they’re chosen, with little to no reason for such self-survey but Public Relations. The emphasis is on diversity for diversity’s sake, with no purposes beyond the circular reasoning of having subpopulations engaged so they’ll be engaged and learn how to engage others like themselves. Engaged in what? That’s not clear: to have residents take part in civic affairs. You find that blurry? I do. And, as Ron says, the city frequently ignores what these volunteers offer anyway. 

The survey ignores one important descriptor: Where do these board and commission members live? Many of them, I repeat from last year, may live outside Minneapolis, like the mayor’s Main Man on the Vikings stadium issue, a Targe VP who I suspect does not live in Minneapolis. (Agreed: Target’s headquarters is happily still downtown, but they kind of own downtown–where’s US Bank and the big downtown law firms when you you need ’em?) The survey intentionally avoids PLACE, so that who lives North, who South, who downtown, who on the East Side or in Kenwood, who in Wayzata, is not asked. The sole emphasis is on cultural groups. 

Cultural groups, if we ignore economic status, are fairly easy to include in a city-appointed set. You just list your cultural (read: racial/ethnic) groups and find someone who belongs to that group who is financially stable and has a flexible work schedule so they can attend city meetings that tend to go on for hours, plus the preparation reading and study for those meetings. We could find a Latino, an Asian American, a Black American, a Native American, a Somali immigrant, etc., for this or that board, especially if you don’t need to worry if they live in our city. Indeed, that’s what the city seems to be recommending for itself: go out and beat the bushes for representatives of certain cultural groups that are financially stable but not white, so NCR and the mayor can tout Minneapolis’s civic engagement diversity. 

It’s when Minneapolis tries to combine racial/ethnic characteristics with economic and educational diversity that we hit bumps in the process. This report is anxious about the lack of diversity on boards and commissions, without any real understanding of what not being fully employed and well-paid means for people’s lives and their ability to focus, as unpaid volunteers, on something else than staying alive and well. 

If someone works three jobs–badly paid, one or more of them part-time with few benefits–to pay for a place to live, food, clothing, and for a family to boot, they’re not going to have much time to go to city meetings on issues that do not directly affect them. A crisis issue or emergency question close to their lives, yes. But not a regular thing that has to do with ordinances or rules or Public Works schedules out five years that deal with other folks’ issues. If you want an economically stressed demographic to participate in civic issues through appointment to a board or commission, you’d best make it worth their while, by reimbursing them for their time. Consider them consultants, and pay them. You might have more takers. Minneapolis must face this problem, or stop talking about wanting to have economic diversity on all its appointed boards. 

Then, too, I don’t find it worrisome that the complex issues dealt with on boards and commissions are studied and discussed by people with at least a college education. It’s logical. Healthy.  I have seen city committees that are made up of mostly well-educated, well-paid urban professional white males who can hardly see their way to paying attention to what a woman or a black person has to say. Will they give a bad time to a high school dropout who’s currently unemployed, if he/she expresses an opinion on, say, which Minneapolis infrastructure will get redone in 2016? 

My hope is that, as it matures, NCR will get its feet more solidly on the ground of people’s real lives, and initiate some projects that go beyond its own composition or that of other city boards and commissions.  Connie Sullivan Como, in East Minneapolis

 

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