The reality of neighborhood associations

As everyone knows, neighborhood associations have been in the news a lot this past year.

Many in standard and social media have questioned the validity of neighborhood associations with the object of reducing funding or erasing them from the cityscape. This campaign is not working well but some are still trying so I think it is time to take a look at the facts.

I believe the reasons for this campaign to be two-fold. First, it is simply an old-fashioned power struggle; who decides the rules and who has a say in them. This is self-explanatory so I will concentrate on the second reason.

Second, is perception. Perception is how city officials and the public unfamiliar with the inner workings of these Associations, view them, thereby causing dissatisfaction with the unknown.

The ‘Unknown’ makes people nervous. The ‘Unknown’ results in misinformation and mistrust. As an association member, I feel the need to make the idea of neighborhood associations a more accessible concept to the public and the following is the result. 

Neighborhood associations are a mirror image of the City Council; the same make and model with a few extra bells and whistles. This is a true statement.

Neighborhood Associations:
1) are elected by those that CHOOSE to vote.
2) represent their constituents to the City Government just as the City Council represents their constituents to the State and Federal Governments.
3) put on free classes that can range from pottery to native gardens to learning English.
4) provide special loan programs and grants for the residents (each neighborhood tries to tailor their programs to the demographics in their area).
5) have committees and taskforces that research subjects, work on projects, and make recommendations to the Board.
6) Board of Directors votes, provides local administrative duties such as contracts, decision-making, information dissemination, and outreach. In essence, they see to the needs and general welfare of the neighborhood residents and precincts.

The expectations of the public are also the same for both entities and their staff.

The constituents expect:
1) honesty, integrity, ethical behavior, researched decisions, and fiscal responsibility.
2) to be listened to and respected by their representatives.  Regardless of a Board Members’ personal opinion, they cannot publicly ridicule, disparage, or remonstrate a constituent until they are out of office.  (And usually not even then because they are neighbors).

3) There are good and bad representatives just like in city government but, just like city government, they run the chance of not being re-elected if they disappoint their constituents.

There are only two real differences between the two, outside of lawmaking.

These are the bells and whistles I referred to earlier. One, in order to protect the voice of the neighborhoods and to curb the interference of city government, they are local unpaid volunteers. These volunteers are elected to the Board of Directors of a private social justice non-profit, ie. ‘Neighborhood Association’, governed by; statutes and legislation, by-laws and the will of the residents of the neighborhood. The key phrase here is ‘private social justice non-profit’.  Like the American Red Cross.  Like 4-H Clubs.  Even like Aeon.

Two, they build community. Neighborhood associations put on community events.

Free events unless they are fundraisers. For example, festivals, parties, BBQs, and dances are provided by active associations. When was the last time the City Council invited you to an event that didn’t have a political or informational agenda?  (In my opinion, the differences actually make the neighborhood associations more attractive than the City Council, rather than less.)

Associations abide by certain regulations to receive city funds, similar to the requirements of any grant. But if they choose not to receive those funds?

They will still exist, carrying on the duties stated in their by-laws because they care.

Neighborhood Associations are therefore a logical extension of outreach to the public.  An integral part of the communication chain in our city.  They are an irreplaceable independent representative, uncontrolled by PACs and politicians.  Their duties are to their homes, neighbors, neighborhoods and to their social justice charity Association.

Neighborhood Associations are only as good as the people that volunteer. The more volunteers, the more active and effective the organization can be.  I hope this clears up a little of the ‘Unknown’ – and I wouldn’t mind

if it generated a few more volunteers!  After all, a community garden can’t grow itself and neither can a community.

Now, do neighborhood associations really sound so bad?

Saralyn Romanishan
Lowry Hill East