Neighborhoods to reconvene in April over community representation

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While the Feb. 21 meeting to create a process for selecting neighborhoods’ representatives to the city’s new Neighborhood and Community Engagement Committee brought neighborhoods together and closer to the goal, it was ultimately inconclusive, according to attendees and facilitators.

The Feb. 21 meeting “generated good discussion,” said Aimee Gourlay of the Mediation Center at Hamline University, who moderated the meeting, adding, “We didn’t have time to get to the level of clarity that the neighborhood representative wanted.”

Bob Miller, executive director of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, set up the meeting but said NRP is being careful to “low-key our involvement” in choosing the election process and, ultimately, the neighborhoods’ eight representatives.

Neighborhood representatives are likely to meet again on April 19 — less than two weeks before the April 28 date the city has proposed to convene the full commission. The City Council, mayor and Park Board have already appointed their eight representatives — a makeup of which has drawn criticism from some neighborhood groups, including the Longfellow Community Council, for its lack of diversity.

After the Feb. 21 meeting, Peter LaSha, who represented the Prospect Park/East River Road Improvement Association (PPERRIA) at the meeting, told the PPERRIA board “moderators [at the Feb. 21 meeting] suggested that the eight city representatives chair the next meeting. You should have heard the uproar,” said LaSha.

No one from the city, NRP or its governing Policy Board attended the Feb. 21 meeting — an intentional decision aimed at giving the neighborhoods autonomy in their decision-making.

In an interview with The Bridge, Miller said the city and NRP should have been involved in the Feb. 21 meeting. Both entities have knowledge that could have helped facilitate the discussion, especially in working with small groups, he said.

In March, Miller and officials from the city’s Neighborhood & Community Relations department met to talk about the April meeting, at which Miller said both parties would be more involved.

Diann Anders, who represented the Seward Neighborhood Group at the Feb. 21 meeting, said that, while the “organizers made a conscientious effort to provide a framework for accomplishing the goal of determining how the neighborhood appointments would be made,” neighborhood representatives came with different intentions.

“Some had been appointed by their neighborhood groups to make the decisions necessary to set up a process,” Anders said. “Some had been appointed to create a plan or plans to take back to their neighborhood groups for debate and adoption at the neighborhood level, and some seem to have been appointed to actually select commissioners.”

The meeting plan broke down in the small group process, she said, when neighborhood representatives were randomly divided into small groups — with no assigned group facilitators — and had a hard time reaching consensus and ran out of time.

“Apart from a general sense that the body favored a process that replicated the process used to elect NRP Policy Board members,” said Anders, “I don’t think the meeting got the neighborhoods any further along in the process.”

Question remain, Anders said, about how NCEC representatives should be chosen, included whether they should represent a “geographically contingent set of neighborhoods,” whether at-large commissioners should be chosen, or if the economic designations currently used by NRP for neighborhoods should be used in determining representation. (Under NRP, each neighborhood is designated as either a “protection,” “revitalization” or “redirection” neighborhood, reflecting their relative economic status.)

“I don’t think there’s anything cohesive across all the neighborhoods,” Miller said. “Now people want more information, things to develop some models.”

Some neighborhood representatives at the April meeting, he noted, might want to take the issue back to their respective boards — most of which meet monthly — for discussion and approval, possibly testing the April 28 deadline.

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