City leaders collect feedback on improving community engagement

Minneapolis residents on Tuesday pitched ideas about improving the relationship between citizens and the city to the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission at a discussion in North Minneapolis.

The 16-member commission, which develops recommendations for improving the city’s public participation process, among other tasks, typically meets at the Minneapolis Central Library downtown. It held the meeting at the Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center on Plymouth Avenue in response to the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark.

The two-hour meeting gave residents the opportunity to voice ideas and frustrations to the commission. Commissioners asked residents to focus their comments on specific policy and rule changes or actions the city could take to improve its relationships with residents.

Many residents suggested specific actions the city while some expressed fatigue with the various meetings and discussions, which they said haven’t led to action. Multiple people asked the commission for a timeline for implementing their suggestions.

“We can’t keep going to every meeting and then [there is] nothing happening,” said community coach and youth activist Michael Tate. “Let’s get the real players in the room.”

Tate, who lives in the Camden Neighborhood, said part of community engagement has to start with education, beginning with the schools teaching kids the impact of crime. He said the School Board and police, among others, need to work together to educate kids.

That education also needs to extend to police, he said, adding that police should strive to serve their communities, not simply patrol them.

“Minneapolis is not a place where you need to be scared of other people,” Tate said.

Tate also said the city is not spending enough money on afterschool programs for kids, noting that “nothing good happens from 3 to 6” if a kid is sitting at home without his or her parents and without food.

Longtime resident Larry Tucker said improving the economic situation is the answer for improving community relations, noting that as an African American, it is hard to get assistance from City Hall.

He asked how the city is measuring the effectiveness of nonprofits and stressed that hiring more black police officers won’t make a difference.

“The answer is economics,” he said. “Without an economic base, you aren’t going to make any changes.”

A man who identified himself as the best friend of Jamar Clark’s cousin said it shouldn’t take a tragic event to lead to community engagement. The man said he is scared of police, asking the commission, “who is policing them?”

Tie Oei of Asian Media Access, which is located on Plymouth Avenue, said she would like to see the revitalization of businesses along the Plymouth Avenue corridor.

“We need things like Cookie Cart and Breaking Bread (Cafe) on Plymouth,” she said. “We need that revitalization to put that money into this corridor.”

Wendy Menken, president of the Southeast Como Improvement Association, said the city’s administrative review process took away the process by which neighborhoods could review plans on items such as parking, aesthetics and density.

She also suggested the city work on writing proposals in plain language to allow for greater understanding.

La Shella Sims of the Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing said it seems like the commission and the City Council don’t have a bilateral relationship. That makes her wonder, she said, whether the Council has groups like this more as a token than for substance.

City Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) said the Council takes the commission’s recommendations seriously.

Commissioner Tessa Wetjen noted the commission’s increasing influence with the city. She noted the One Minneapolis Fund, which the commission facilitates to support leadership development and community engagement. The fund provided $182,000 this year for cultural and community leadership development.