District 7 leadership concerned about participation, purpose of meetings: Chair plans to seek citywide discussion about neighborhood districts
Neighborhood District 7 met Thursday, and its first item under new business was its own viability. At 6 p.m. a group of about 16 met at Mount Olive English Lutheran Church for an informational meeting about traffic on First Street. At 7 p.m. most...
Neighborhood District 7 met Thursday, and its first item under new business was its own viability.
At 6 p.m. a group of about 16 met at Mount Olive English Lutheran Church for an informational meeting about traffic on First Street. At 7 p.m. most of the room cleared out as District 7's meeting was set to begin.
A group of eight people stayed for the meeting. They discussed First Street traffic flow, the London Road transportation study and the Lakewalk extension.
Neighborhood District 7, which covers Endion and Condgon, has varied attendance. When a high profile issue is on the agenda, the meeting is well attended. Otherwise, only three to seven people attend regularly, said district chairwoman Alison Clarke.
When it's not highly publicized, people don't know what the district is meeting to discuss. They know there's a meeting, they just don't know the agenda, Clarke said.
"That puts us in a tricky position," she said.
Clarke said she feels uncomfortable speaking for District 7 when only a few people attend a meeting because it challenges her integrity. She can say what people in the district would tend to support based on past experience, but she doesn't know how people actually feel.
The city has 10 neighborhood districts which cover all the geographic areas of the city. Participation varies at all of them.
The districts were formed as part of the comprehensive planing process, so people could give input into that process. Their original purpose is gone, and the city now has no funding to support the districts, Clarke said.
Neighborhood District 7 regulars said at the meeting they think district meetings are important because they give people an opportunity to watch what the city is doing and a place to voice concerns.
The fact that the group is here means it will be heard, said Iver Bogen, at the meeting.
"You have to assume that having seven to 10 people speaking for the district is better than nobody," he said.
The problem for the District 7 leadership is that informing the public about meetings is a lot of work, Clarke said.
The leadership consists of Clarke, Vice Chairwoman Katie Sandell and Secretary Gloria Brush. The three women sometimes print flyers and distribute them to areas affected by items on the meeting's agenda.
When the issue of the Lakewalk extension between 26th Avenue East and 34th Avenue East was first discussed, the women took fliers door to door to tell people about the meeting.
People have to know the agenda to know to participate, Clarke said.
Once, Clarke did an experiment. She took her own money and a donation from a concerned citizen and purchased an advertisement in the local newspapers to print the agendas for three meetings.
It worked. Ten people came to the meeting because they saw the agenda in the paper.
The city planning office sends out e-mailed agendas to individuals who have attended the meetings in the past. The neighborhood districts are all resident driven and resident run, said Kyle Deming of the city planning staff.
The planning office doesn't have staff available to support them other than the e-mail and posting agendas and minutes to its Web site.
About 10 years ago, the Office of Planning and Development wanted a more uniform way to contact people, and representatives from all over the city suggested the 10 districts, Deming said.
Before the neighborhood districts, there were community clubs where the city would bring the information, but not every district has a club.
Each district has a chair and co-chair and can make motions, but the motions are not official.
"We don't require any of these districts to meet," Deming said. "If they don't want to have meetings, they don't have to."
The planning office would hold onto its e-mail lists for the districts if any of them decided to stop meeting in case they started meeting again.
"I think for the most part the districts have worked very well," he said.
People are driven to meetings when the issues relate to their lives. That's just human nature, said Kevin Skwira-Brown, Neighborhood District 8 chairman. "In each district, there's a core of people who go to meetings because they believe in proactive citizen involvement in our community," Skwira-Brown said.
The purpose the districts were formed for is gone, now the purpose of the districts needs to be redefined, said David Yount at the meeting.
He proposed that Clarke meet with chairs from other districts to discuss how the districts should go forward.
Clarke, who had been considering resigning, accepted his proposal and is planning to do just that. "I'm going to continue on," she said. "But I don't want to continue limping."