Today (Sunday, March 31) is the last day to submit public comment on Neighborhoods 2020. These are recommendations to the City Council on setting standards for city-funded neighborhood organizations.
If it’s helpful, here’s what I just sent to the city:
Demographic Standards. I say absolutely yes to standards requiring neighborhood organizations to approximate the demographic makeup of their neighborhoods. For decades the city has funded groups in my part of the city that have served as interest groups for white property owners — people who are already empowered. If these groups want to continue to operate free of any requirements to serve (or have a plan to serve) everyone who lives in the neighborhood, they can forego city support. The city could find a way to fund organizations that serve people who are not already empowered. Groups that currently do well by this measure have nothing to fear.
Enforcement. Under current rules the city has the power to withhold funding from these groups but political incentives are to keep shoveling money at the most vocal people in a given neighborhood. I hope the City Council will set the strongest possible standards from the beginning because it seems dubious that whatever rules are implemented will be strictly enforced.
Bylaws. I support having requirements for bylaws that are inclusive — not bylaws designed to restrict participation.
A few years ago when the Whittier Alliance was using exclusionary practices to limit who could run for their board, NCR stepped in to tell them what they were doing was not ok. But sadly, NCR’s further response was to tell the Whittier Alliance that the solution was to enshrine these exclusionary practices into their bylaws. It’s vital that every resident of a neighborhood is eligible to vote and serve on a neighborhood board, without regard to length of residency or with requirements related to past meeting attendance. If these organizations want to maintain their independence and ability to exclude then they can — they just have to do it without city money.
Elections. I support a single citywide election day and standardized election procedures/eligibility, including absentee voting. I know some groups oppose this on the basis of “but this is how we’ve always done things.” But this needs to be about expanding participation beyond the “people who’ve always showed up to things.” The best way to expand participation is to speak with one voice, and say the same thing to every resident in the city. No exceptions should be made for groups who would prefer to hold their elections at unique days and times.
Communication Standards. Every organization should have a website where you can find a current list of board members, meeting minutes, and agendas; a calendar with times and locations for board and committee meetings; updated social media pages. Organizations that don’t meet this bare minimum are not healthy, well-functioning organizations and I don’t want my tax dollars wasted on them.
Term Limits. I support limiting the length of service for board members and officers. If a neighborhood organization can’t attract new leadership then it is failing to engage the neighborhood and should not be funded by the city. Organizations that are made up of the same 6, 8, 10 people for many years at a time are not effectively engaging the neighborhood.
Funding. I support diverting neighborhood organization funding towards community based organizations with an effective track record and a plan to serve their communities, particularly historically under-served populations. If neighborhood organizations have proven to be effective or have a plan to accomplish this work, they can compete for this pool of funding.
Neighborhoods 2020 process. This process has been too narrowly focused on engaging people who are already involved in our existing neighborhood organization structure. We should have fostered a much broader debate involving other kinds of people. We didn’t ask questions like: Do we need 70 organizations in Minneapolis? We have $XX,XXX,XXX amount of money — how do we want to spend it on our communities?
People who are already deeply invested in the current structure will always strongly object to any changes to that system. Starting from scratch should have been an option.