A Road Map to Neighborhood Council Power-Part II

EMPOWERMENT REPORT - My previous column addressed the first step in bringing neighborhood councils closer to their full potential as movers and shakers of the political system.

That first step is to provide council board members and stakeholders with a more effective ability to strategize and organize themselves.  Creating an electronic meeting place would allow participation by infinitely more people than can attend meetings in person.

Of course it’s not the only way to increase participation.  

And that takes us to the second step in the process: giving people a reason to get involved with neighborhood councils.

Between work and family, everybody has a limited amount of time to give to their community and neighborhood council.  Few people who have something of value to offer are going to wait for their opportunity while adults are feuding like children over a procedural point that doesn’t matter in the big picture.

People should know that a neighborhood council meeting is a welcoming place where problems and ideas will be acted upon.  Unlike City Council meetings.

Do that and people will attend.  However, if every meeting becomes a battle between two sides each trying to “win,” and using Robert’s Rules of Order and the Brown Act as a weapon, then nobody wins.

There is a neighborhood council in St. Paul that was considering having two boards of directors.  

One board would do the business of the council and be guided by the often complex and intimidating Robert’s Rules of Order.  

Because a 20-minute discussion over correcting the minutes of the previous meeting drives away good people quicker than a tear gas release, the St. Paul council was thinking about creating a second board for discussions of the day’s issues.

Its meetings would be governed more by common sense and a neighborly atmosphere.  Board members might actually sit with the stakeholders as opposed to above or in front of them separated by that invisible wall of superiority.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment could assist by gathering up council members (online or in person) and brainstorming better ways to market the councils.  

Bus placards that only allow enough words to urge people to join a neighborhood council won’t cut it.

Marketing neighborhood councils means the successful delivery of a fairly complex message. The public needs to be told what the councils are, why they should get involved, and how to do it.  

During their bids for certification many council organizers excelled at doing just that.  That information used to be available on the DONE website, but alas it was deleted for reason unknown.

These exemplary efforts can now reside in the memories of the organizers, and in each council’s application for certification.

For years, the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners has been asking neighborhood councils to come to their community-based meetings and brag about their achievements, but nowhere on the DONE website or in the commission’s minutes can those accomplishments be found.  What a waste!

A neighborhood council board that argues its way to an 8-7 vote on a land use issue has accomplished nothing.  City Council members who will make the ultimate decision know that it was a split decision, and because they were told by their staff or neighborhood council members, they will know the issues that were in play.

A real eye opener would be if each council would survey a random number of stakeholders and ask why they don’t participate.  It would take minutes, cost nothing, and provide lots of clues about improvements.  An interesting starting place would be former BONC commissioners.

(Greg Nelson is a former general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, was instrumental in the creation of the LA Neighborhood Council System, served as chief of staff for former LA City Councilman Joel Wachs …  and occasionally writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at gregn213@cox.net)

Tags: Greg Nelson, The City, neighborhood councils, empowerment, Los Angeles, Internet, politics

Vol 10 Issue 56
Pub: July 13, 2012