by Sarajane Siegfriedt
The purpose of Neighborhood councils and their representative District Councils is to build community and to bring the unique needs of each community to the attention of the city. For example, Maple Leaf would never have received its wildly successful park built on a reservoir lid without thousands of hours of volunteer community involvement. The North District Council was crucial in organizing a broad expression of community support for the 130th Street Station being included in the final version of the ST3 plan. The Mayor's plan for a Commission on Community Involvement doesn't in any way substitute for community organizing of for the volunteer hours required by neighborhood grants.
The 2009 city audit of District Councils pointed to shortcomings in support and outreach that were never funded due to recessionary budgets. Instead, the councils have received $500 apiece, which may be used for room rental or other expenses. The District Councils are in agreement with the need for better IT support for websites and email lists, and, especially, for translated materials. Following the audit recommendations and funding the gaps, including establishing outreach goals, would make far more sense than abolishing the only set of geographically-based forums for neighbors to build inclusive communities.
There are 45 other mayoral commissions that represent all the diversity groups the Mayor named, and the District Councils would be more than happy to work with them on diversity.
In this next budget cycle, the City Council should fund the recommendations of the 2009 audit report and affirm the need for local community councils that include renters, homeowners and small business owners as well as many other local interest groups (e.g., watershed conservation). A list of all the neighborhood councils and their member groups should be compiled and published, maintained at city expense.
Neighborhood councils involve thousands of people in volunteer neighborhood improvement projects. Since the Mayor's action to "demolish the district councils" doesn't accomplish what he says they lack, there must be another motivation.