NRP work group updates Council on community engagement plan

The Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) Work Group recently revealed the progress made for plans after NRP ends in 2009, such as the addition of a new city department and citizen advisory board.

But the work group’s work is most definitely a work in progress, and won’t be complete until the City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting July 24. Following that, work will be done and the City Council is expected to act on the Work Group’s recommendations sometime in early fall and beyond.

The NRP Work Group was formed in October 2007 to frame the outline for Minneapolis neighborhoods after funding for the 20-year program ends in 2009.

The six-member ad-hoc group is comprised of Lilligren (6th Ward), Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward),  Council Member Paul Ostrow (1st Ward), Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward), Mayor Rybak’s Policy Aid Cara Letofsky and NRP Chair Bob Miller.

NRP Work Group Chair and 6th Ward Council Member Robert Lilligren said at the June 19 Committee of the Whole meeting that there would most likely be a number of changes, including the addition of the Neighborhood Community & Advisory Board (NCAB) and a new city department known as Neighborhood & Community Relations (NCR).

NCAB: The 18-member board could largely replace the 17-member NRP Policy Board. Board members, comprised of elected and appointed citizens, could serve up to three two-year terms. Neighborhood boards and elected officials would split the appointments with nine coming from neighborhood groups, seven from the City Council and two from the mayor’s office. The NCAB would act as an advisory board,  meeting weekly with city officials and staff. NCAB would also be involved with the selection of a director.

NCR: The NCR would allow neighborhoods to set priorities planning and implementation and serve as a “central resource” to all other city departments. Lilligren described NCAB as a way to allow citizens greater access to the city. On paper, NCR will also work to “strengthen the city’s quality of life through vigorous community participation, resident involvement in neighborhood and community organizations and supporting clearly defined links between the city, city services and neighborhood and community organization,” according to a draft of the work group’s plan.

Lilligren’s progress report also touched on  how neighborhood revitalization efforts will be funded in the future.

While it is true that millions in city taxes will no longer subsidize neighborhood projects after 2009, the state Legislature recently OK’d between $10 to $15 million annually for the City Council to fund neighborhoods and pay down $100 million in debt remaining on the Target Center.

The exact amount, like everything else in this intricate process, has yet to be finalized. Naturally, that has some neighborhoods worried.

Marcea Mariani attended the work group update and said she came away feeling the presentation was woefully inadequate.

Mariani, who chairs the six-month-old Neighbors 4 NRP, said her group of at least 20 regular active members is afraid the Council will fold NRP after 2009 because of an apparent disconnect between the city and its citizens.

“One of the reasons I don’t like [the Framework so far] is it makes all neighborhood groups reactive to city priorities not neighborhood priorities,” Mariani said.

However, she hasn’t given up hope for the possibility of again adding a city staff person in each department committed to NRP-city relations.

“The Framework could be really good stuff,” she said, “it could produce a way for city departments to work in harmony.”

Lilligren’s proposal, on behalf of the NRP Work Group, tried to do just that. However, the initial document, presented to neighborhoods in December 2007, known as the “Framework For the Future,” didn’t go over well with a majority of neighborhoods.

Mariani estimated that upwards of 90 percent of Minneapolis’ 61 active neighborhoods responded overwhelmingly negatively to the Framework because they like NRP the way it is and are afraid the alternative means less power for neighborhood boards.

In NRP Work Group member and Council Member Betsy Hodges’s 13th Ward, that apparently wasn’t the case, as all seven neighborhood groups recently wrote a letter to her “generally supportive” of the Framework, she said.

“The biggest thing to keep in mind is the goals and intention of the [NRP] will still be intact,” Hodges said. “Neighborhoods will still have the capacity to respond to neighborhood needs and have some resources to do that.”

Under the latest plans, many programs that were successful under NRP — such home improvement loan programs in 60 neighborhoods — will remain, Lilligren said.

The NRP Work Group will give its final presentation and recommendations to the Council on July 24. Lilligren said the group hopes to present finalized funding plans (such as when, where and how much will be spent on Target Center, and how much on neighborhoods) at that time. All documents related to the work done so far is available online at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/council/2008-meetings/20080620/cow.asp.