PICO NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL
Neighborhood Councils, Block Clubs and Associations. Concerns, Ideas, Opinions, Thoughts and Solutions
In my outreach to the Mid-City and West Adams neighborhoods, I have encountered a healthy variety of vibrant neighborhood block clubs, associations and assorted Neighborhood Councils. These groups are led by the natural leaders in their communities and supported by residents who have the time and interest to get involved in local issues. Residents participate for different reasons. Some love to socialize with their neighbors or are upset about something or simply seek support for a neighborhood project. Some like to feel a part of the community, while others have discovered the importance of contributing. The leaders step forward, (usually because everyone else steps back) and the group is suffused with good intentions.
Yet things can get messy. Leaders can become entrenched and reluctant to pass the baton. The group can be used to pursue personal agendas at the expense of the larger community.
Some residents can be favored while obstacles are placed before those less favored. Groups can also become self-serving, keeping the larger community at bay while making unilateral decisions about what is best for everyone. Personalities can prevail over principles, while challenges to the status quo or voices of opposition become marginalized or forced out altogether. Communication with the community the group serves can become controlled or minimal. In other words...politics as usual.
I have also sat in on extremely well run meetings where a strong understanding of Roberts Rules prevail and leaders bring a respectable level of objectivity to the table, preferring to see themselves as facilitators. Timers are considered a necessary tool to help keep the meeting moving forward. I have found that effective groups are best guided by a few simple concepts: transparency, inclusiveness and accountability. All questions are entertained and sincerely considered and every resident attending is considered important.
A debt of gratitude is owed to all those residents who take the time to get involved in making their community a better place. We have all witnessed enormous improvement in our neighborhoods as a result. But how can these community groups grow to become as objective, even-handed, transparent, accountable and inclusive as possible?
To address some of these concerns and encourage greater participation TNN is introducing the new column, “Leaders and Activists”. TNN will submit questions to local residents with a history of community service and present their views and opinions to you. Our primary purpose is to provide opportunities for a wide range of groups and residents to connect, learn about, inform and engage each other. Our hope is that this column will generate discussion, provoke ideas and strengthen our community.
Question: What are some of the challenges you have run into in your group work? Do you have a suggested solution?
Myrna Anderson Allen; A United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council board member, Myrna has been a community activist for as long as she can remember starting on the West Side in the 60’s. She’s been attending local community meetings since 2003.
Challenge and Solution:
As late as 2007 many United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Association (UNNC) committees were struggling to increase committee representation and many communities remained under represented even at well run effective meetings. The great news is in 2010 the UNNC faced a contested election that stimulated an outreach program resulting in a voter turnout that ranked them in the top 10 out of 90 Los Angeles NCs.
I am thrilled to see that this reinvigorated outreach remains a top UNNC priority. We are utilizing posters, media advertisements, standardized print materials and sign up sheets for all events and introducing twitter for various public event notifications. New tech savvy empowerment tools are continuing and expanding under the guidance of UNNC returning board member Norman Gilman. In addition to working on upgrading the web site, the UNNC purchased a 3G/4G wireless hotspot from Sprint allowing internet access at all meeting places. This allows access to Google street views, overhead satellite views and other web information to be viewed or projected for discussions of land use and blight issues and all other committee needs. Having the ability to check facts, context, and background information allows more accurate thoughtful deliberation of issues.
Jo Schaefer: Member of MINC formation committee and ten year Board member,
Challenge: It’s always difficult, when dealing with the “community”, be it your block, neighborhood, or city area, to stay relevant and attuned to the needs and desires of the people who make up that entity, especially when your role is to represent. Often we are stuck in the past with a definition of our neighborhood that no longer exists. New neighbors move in who want to change the status quo. You wonder why they chose “your” neighborhood to live in if it needs so much change. And who, after all, speaks for the “community”? As these organizations form and grow and age there is a real danger that new voices or opposing voices get beaten back, belittled, drowned out. Group representatives get entrenched. “We know what’s best for you” - a frequent political mantra.
Solution: Constant evaluation. Annual surveys: are we working on the issues that matter to you? Has our presence made this neighborhood better? Do you feel you have a voice in this organization? And not just annually but building a constant dialogue with our neighbors and self-valuation as to our effectiveness.
Gavin Glynn: member of the UNNC Zoning Committee - 2002-Present. Founder and charter member of West Adams Avenues; Quality of Life Committee to propose projects to Council District 10 office 2006-2010.
Challenge: People who want to lead often lack experience and those who have experience don’t tend to run for volunteer offices.
Solution: The city, not just DONE, needs to offer leadership training and create a web-site that allows access to accurate info about city laws and procedures for stakeholder’s questions. I suggest meetings be videotaped for legal documentation and to allow verification that proper procedures were followed. I also believe NC Agendas should be stakeholder driven, leaving zero power to the NC leadership. This would avoid the accomodation of the expressed opinions of the few.
Hattie Babb: West Adams Neighborhood Council Board Member and previous Chair.
Challenge: I have found it is very difficult to get board members and community groups to connect with each other. There is not enough outreach into the community to get a feel for how they want their NC monies spent or how they want their community to be affected, with Board members often making decisions based on their own personal agenda’s. Some members do not know their neighbors nor do their neighbors know them. This election year I was able to get one board member that did not represent just the black community and I believe we need more members like him. Because all seats were not filled during our June 26, 2010 election, I was also able to offer another non- black resident the opportunity to participate.
Solution: I think it’s important to understand that our goal/mission is to EMPOWER others. To build a strong community of volunteers to help the communities they live, work, worship and play in. I believe without community involvement neighborhood councils will not last. For neighborhood councils who do not have a large turnout they can print out Public Participation Manual, Investing in Portland’s Future PDC (Portland Development Commission) July 1, 2007 PDC Public Affairs Department from the DONE site. I think that if Board members were to READ this article and take up some of the suggestions, it would be very helpful to their growth.
Teresa Rhynes: is an Executive member of P.I.C.O. Neighborhood Council and is a Leadership facilitator for Organizational Improvement and Customer Service for five Southern California VA agencies.
Challenge: A challenge in some groups is the lack of a clearly articulated vision. Thus they usually lose focus and can’t stay on track with the vision, mission or goal. There can also be no big”I’s” and lil “U’s” with too much micro-management and no empowerment. People need to feel valued. Poor leadership that fosters trust issues within the organization is another issue. This usually indicates a breakdown in communication somewhere in the process. You also cannot formulate effective solutions without accountability, someone has to be accountable for the task at hand.
Solution: Confident trustworthy leaders. Effective leadership empowers, provides opportunities, shares information and resources, fosters collaboration, and is forward thinking(visionary).