The city is allowing more time to gather feedback on its draft of a plan to encourage more equitable and inclusive civic participation both at City Hall and in neighborhoods.
The deadline to comment on the Blueprint for Equitable Engagement was delayed six weeks to Aug. 14, in part because of pushback from neighborhood groups. Only one of the draft plan’s five objectives deals specifically with neighborhood organizations and their elected boards, but that one facet of the Blueprint has drawn an inordinate amount of attention.
The eyes of many neighborhood leaders were drawn to one phrase in particular that has a prominent place in the Blueprint: “Neighborhoods 2020,” the title for an effort to revamp the city’s relationship with neighborhood groups. It refers to the year when grant funds available to neighborhoods through the Community Participation Program, the successor to the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, run dry.
Below that heading, bullet points hit on the need to “clarify” the role of neighborhood organizations, to “establish measurable operational standards” and to provide better training to those who serve on neighborhood boards.
“It talks a lot about the city’s expectations for neighborhoods, but it doesn’t really describe it as a two-way street,” Monica Smith, coordinator of the East Calhoun Community Organization, said.
The message that neighborhood organizations are looking for more of a collaborative relationship with City Hall — and less of what some read in the Blueprint as a top-down approach — was heard loud and clear this summer at the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations Department. The department’s director, David Rubedor, said he’s willing to take the time to get the neighborhood section of the Blueprint right.
“I think it’s going to be substantially revamped, based on the input — in a good way,” Rubedor said. “And then, if it’s really a major overhaul, I may just open it back up for public comment to make sure that we got it where it needs to be because, to me, the conversation around this is as important as the document itself.”
Also outlined in the Blueprint are steps the city could take to make the membership of its boards and commissions better reflect the diversity of Minneapolis as a whole, as well as plans to improve its public outreach and engagement so a broader segment of the population weighs in on policy issues. Rubedor said Neighborhoods 2020 was written into the draft document because “the neighborhoods are a formal engagement network that the city uses and has a relationship with, and so how we help and support neighborhood organizations to be more diverse is a critical part of that conversation.”
The results of voluntary surveys conducted by NCR in 2014 showed certain demographic groups — including renters, people of color and people with lower incomes — were underrepresented on city boards and commissions.
A survey that same year of neighborhood groups only achieved a low 52-percent response rate, but the results indicated neighborhood boards lack racial diversity, and board members tend to be more highly educated and earn bigger incomes when compared to the city as a whole. Just over half of Minneapolis residents are renters, but more than three-quarters of the board members who responded to the survey owned homes.
“That’s our baseline, so as we move forward we can tell whether any changes that we do make are impactful and effective,” Rubedor said.
In an email, East Isles Residents Association Board President Andrew Degerstrom wrote it’s an “inconvenient truth” that “some neighborhood associations do not do a good job representing the diverse interests in their neighborhoods.” Rather than protest the Blueprint, Degerstrom said EIRA would respond “by highlighting some areas where we do a good job engaging underrepresented groups, some areas where we need to improve, and expressing our desire to work the City to improve our engagement overall.”
But that’s not the case in all part of Southwest Minneapolis. Whittier Alliance Executive Director Marian Biehn, who also commented via email, said that organization planned to contact the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office to “get a reading” on the Blueprint.
Linda Todd of East Calhoun said the draft version of the Blueprint appeared to address neighborhood organizations “as if we were employees in carrying out city mandates.” (Todd is a former board president for the East Calhoun Community Organization, but said she was speaking for herself, not the board.)
While the groups receive city funding — including the $215 million dispersed to neighborhoods over 20 years through the Neighborhood Revitalization Program — they are independent organizations. If the Blueprint’s guidelines for neighborhoods were tied to the use of city funds, that would be one thing, Todd suggested, but many neighborhood organizations raise and spend their own money on projects, too.
“I think that there’s often the viewpoint that neighborhood organizations first originated when (Neighborhood Revitalization Program) funds were released in the early 1990s,” Todd said. “In fact, many neighborhood organizations were around much longer than that.”
How to weigh in
The original July 3 deadline to submit comments on the city’s draft Blueprint for Equitable Engagement was recently extended to Aug. 14. The intention of the plan is to make civic engagement more equitable and inclusive, but it also addresses the city’s relationship with neighborhood organizations.
To read the Blueprint, or for information on how to submit written comments by mail or online, go to ci.minneapolis.mn.us/ncr/initiatives/equitableengagement.
An information meeting on the Blueprint is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.–8 p.m. Aug. 11 in the community room at Heritage Park Apartments, 1000 Olson Memorial Highway.