After heated debate and significant changes, the contentious elections process for selecting neighborhood representatives for the city’s newly created Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission (NCEC) seems to have settled into a workable compromise.
The NCEC will fill its eight open seats — reserved for elected resident representatives — in a one-night-only June 16 election at Van Cleve Park, 901 15th Ave. SE, at 6 p.m. A candidates’ forum will take place beforehand.
The fully seated commission will hold its inaugural meeting June 23.
(Links to information about the NCEC, candidates and June 16 elections are at the end of this article.)
The 16-member commission will act as an advisory board for the city’s community engagement activities, including reviewing neighborhood plans and making recommendations to the City Council, mayor and city departments on community engagement practices, principles and funding.
Last September, the City Council voted to transfer community engagement from the existing Neighborhood Revitalization Program(NRP) to the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations Department — a larger process that was contentious in its own right, with a contingent of neighborhood-level activists in opposition.
While the eight city-appointed NCEC members (two by the mayor, five by the City Council and one by the Park Board) were chosen earlier this year, the city’s neighborhood organizations have worked for months to formulate a plan to elect their own eight representatives.
How the NCEC’s neighborhood commissioners will be selected
Previous election plans included a two-week voting period that would close June 16, but some vocal neighborhood groups complained there wasn’t enough time before voting would begin to properly educate electors.
Under the new scheme — devised at a May 27 meeting of the task force charged with creating the election model — districts can choose to host their own discussions and caucuses before the June 16 election.
Representatives will be selected on a district-by-district basis. For NCEC election purposes, the city is divided into eight roughly equal sections — approved in April — based on population and geographic area. Alternate representatives will also be elected.
Bridgeland neighborhoods by district
All Bridgeland neighborhoods are in District 8 (roughly the eastern portion of the city bordered by I-35W, Hiawatha Avenue and the St. Paul border) except for Marcy-Holmes and Nicollet Island/East Bank, which are in the Northeast-heavy District 4; and Downtown East in District 5, which is primarily Downtown and Near North neighborhoods.
Download a pdf map of NCEC districts
Under the election system, each neighborhood group selects one elector to vote as proxy for the neighborhood group on June 16. By June 8, neighborhoods must select their electors and alternate electors. Organizations that cover multiple neighborhoods are assigned enough votes to cover each neighborhood. For example, the Longfellow Community Council (LCC), which presides over four Minneapolis neighborhoods — Longfellow, Cooper, Howe and Hiawatha — will have four votes, which can be cast by up to four different electors.
A citywide forum for electors and residents to meet the representative candidates — previously scheduled for Wednesday, June 3, at Van Cleve Park — was rescheduled for the June 16 election night. The League of Women Voters will manage the event, rather than city officials, as originally planned.
There, each neighborhood’s electors and alternate electors will meet with prospective representatives from their districts and vote. Before election day, districts are free to host their own meetings and discussions.
Representatives must be elected by more than 50 percent of the vote, as determined at the elections task force meeting. Alternates will likely be candidates with the second-most votes. Those elected will serve two-year terms, but even-numbered districts will send representatives for three-year terms initially to facilitate the process of electing half the commission each year, beginning in 2011.
More information about the June 16 election and candidates’ forum
The development and integration of the new commission has been scrutinized by some community members who say the city is extending its reach uncomfortably far. While strides have been made to make the process more resident-centric rather than city-controlled, LCC Executive Director Melanie Majors, who is a candidate in District 7, said there still could be significant problems.
For example, said Majors, there’s no plan if there’s a tie between candidates in a district. And given that some districts have three or four candidates running, that situation is possible.
The elections process is in its current state of compromise because of neighborhood groups and residents taking back control over the process, Majors said.
At the LCC’s May 17 meeting, David Rubedor — the city’s senior project manager for the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department — took pointed questions. The bulk of the criticism Rubedor faced centered on what the neighborhood group called an arbitrary and insufficient timeline. An application deadline for potential representative candidates was set for May 26 — less than a week after the LCC meeting — which the group feared didn’t offer enough time to properly vet qualified and diverse candidates for the job. (Most Minneapolis neighborhood groups meet and do business on a similar schedule of once-a-month meetings.)
Because neighborhoods felt the timeline didn’t allow for outreach, they alleged the entire elections process was city-driven, rather than in the hands of the neighborhoods and their residents.
“There is too little attention paid to the recruitment process,” Majors said at the May 17 meeting. “We need [the commission] to be representative, we need diversity. The timeline won’t allow for this.”
Short timeline produced 35 candidates
Across all eight districts, 35 residents submitted applications No district had fewer than three submitted, and some had more than twice that.
“People said the timeline didn’t allow for a diverse group of candidates, but we have a great diversity of candidates on this list,” Rubedor said. “The quality and quantity of candidates that came forward really is the meat of what we we’re looking for.”
As part of the filing process, the 35 candidates filled out questionaires about their life, work and neighborhood organization experience, as well as their reasons for wanting to serve on the NCEC.
The timeline is necessary because some neighborhoods need and expect funds in the near future, Rubedor said.
The commission needs to be fully functional by January 2011 to ensure timely fund distribution, he added, which will require the commission to oversee hiring management, transitioning NRP staff to the new department and developing guidelines for handling Phase 3 of the outgoing NRP program.
“It’s a whole lot of work to be done by 2011,” Rubedor said. He also characterized the funds allocated to neighborhoods as similar to those distributed through NRP.
The submission of applications to the city, rather than to neighborhood groups or the NCEC elections task force, is a contentious issue. Under the NRP model, applications for its governing policy board were sent to NRP staffers — not city officials.
Rubedor said the city seemed like the most capable entity to handle all the work associated with an election, though he acknowledged that he didn’t formally ask community groups if that was their desired course of action.
“Pulling together this elections process from 81 neighborhoods with varying perspectives on how this should be done is a very difficult process,” he said. “It’s been about how do we get to getting elections done with a fair and good process, and not everyone is going to be happy with it.”
A rocky path to a new model
While some outspoken neighborhood groups have been critical of the new processes, some have been supportive, but neither backing nor disapproval has been uniform.
Some problems could’ve been foreseen, Ward 2 Councilmember Cam Gordon said. For example, when the City Council approved the new commission, there was little guidance laid out for how the eight resident representatives would be selected.
“The difficulty that’s followed, with no identified leadership or coordinated leadership, made me feel like we should’ve provided more guidance or structure,” he said, noting that he also initially pushed for a commission without city officials.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll end up with a good group in the end; unfortunately, we have had a rocky path to get there,” Gordon said. “The system we ended up with was a compromise, and it will work, but it wasn’t what I advocated for.”
James De Sota, neighborhood coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association, echoed Gordon’s sentiment.
“In general, people’s feeling is that there still a little upset over NRP going away and being replaced by the NCEC, and its going to take a little time really for people to feel comfortable with the fact that there’s a new process,” he said. “That’s just the way it’s going to be, and we’re going to have to work with it.”
In the long term, some residents worry the more centralized city system will ultimately render neighborhood organizations voiceless.
“There is a great sense of a loss of power, of engagement, a bit of distrust that our voices are going to be heard when the power is shifted from the neighborhoods to the city,” said Melissa Erjavec, a neighborhood resident and the outgoing secretary of the Longfellow Community Council. “I am saddened that NRP as we know it today is coming to end.”
Moving forward, Majors said it’s difficult to be optimistic — because of the skepticism and conflict surrounding the new commission as well as larger, broader problems like the sluggish economy.
“The best case scenario really is that you get together a commission of people who sincerely want to keep Minneapolis neighborhoods viable and sustainable,” she said. “But the city, the way they have set this whole thing up, has already set up an adversarial process.”
More immediately, Gordon said that, because of the scrutiny of the new system, it’s likely there will be thoughtful consideration of candidates before the election —and that kind of engagement is a good thing.
“It’ll be really important that people are confident there was a good election, and I’m sure people will be paying careful attention to the commission in its first meetings as it gets going,” he said. “We’ll have to keep working hard to build the trust and community among all the factions affected here.”
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