Government & Politics
 

Mayor wants to create office for citizen-engagement

Citizen engagement got its own line in the 2011 budget brought before the City Council today by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Among the items funded within the $126 million proposed budget for the Mayor’s Office is $483,950 for the creation of an Office of Neighborhood and Citizen Engagement.  If funded, the office would be the city’s first attempt at formalizing the city’s approach to public participation and, potentially, an answer to rules imposed by the master plan requiring a structured approach to citizen involvement.

As described in the budget presented by the administration, the mandate of the proposed office is “to provide a permanent mechanism for citizens to participate in local problem solving – from blight eradication to NORD.”

The mayor did not immediately respond to questions about how the new office will function, but advocates for citizen participation say the new office, in concept, is a good thing.

“Hopefully this will help make sure neighborhoods get served and people have input,” said Keith Twitchell, executive director of Committee for a Better New Orleans.

Twitchell’s nonprofit has been working on creating its own model for a system that would fill the master-plan requirement since 2003, long before the plan became law this year. Over the past few years, the organization has held dozens of community meetings, working with neighborhood groups and City Planning staff to fine-tune what the organization calls a “citizen participation plan.” Even so, Twitchell says the nonprofit was not consulted on the proposed office.

“But I don’t think it’s a threat to the CPP,” he said. “There are a lot of cities that have both an office of neighborhoods and a citizen participation program, whether people want it done that way here is still up for discussion. It’s not an either-or situation.”

Earlier this month, the effort faced a setback when Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said no single plan being circulated will be adopted and she wants the commission to start over and hold a series of public meetings to gather input.

Update: Oct. 15 5:22 pm

Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni has gotten back to our question about whether the new office will fulfill the obligations for a participation plan outlined in the Master Plan and the verdict is no. In Berni’s words: “The office addresses the recommendation of the Neighborhood Development Task Force for a dedicated Office of Neighborhoods and is separate from the obligation that the Master Plan creates.”

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  • Valerie Savoie

    Seeing, and experiencing is believing. Those neighborhood meetings held by Mayor Landrieu were a long way from citizen participation. Just iced us down and went on his way. Now that the biggest and baddest damage is done, i.e Baton Rouge and LSU landgrabbing a done deal, we get to participate, maybe, in less community important matters? We are not stupid, and the largest of the damage is done. A second term is still very much in question. De facto meetings with no ability to change what city government gave to Baton Rouge is not going to ice anyone down. Not even the thought counts on this one, given the timing.

  • Gloria DeCuir-Robert

    Until grassroots neighborhood association presidents are appointed to these panels and boards, government will NEVER understand the heartbeat of community concerns. Most CEOs, college presidents, and other upper management people don’t even attend neighborhood association meetings. It is not until local leaders want something (e.g., NORD Reform, etc.) that they are interested in the pulse of the community.

  • Valerie Savoie

    Worth repeating: Gloria DeCuir-Robert “Until grassroots neighborhood association presidents are appointed to these panels and boards, government will NEVER understand the heartbeat of community concerns. Most CEOs, college presidents, and other upper management people don’t even attend neighborhood association meetings. It is not until local leaders want something (e.g., NORD Reform, etc.) that they are interested in the pulse of the community.”

    I recently heard Mayor Landrieu was holding a “public meeting.” I could not find where this was announced to the public giving many the option of attending or not. This is clearly an opportunity for Mayor Landrieu to say, in response to any criticisms about public participation in the community, that people are not interested based on the poor attendance. There were less than ten members of the community at the “unannounced meeting” held by the Mayor. If there is authentic interest in community participation, the questions are, how far in advance does the Mayor plan community meetings, are they held at a time when optimal participation is possible, and by what means does the Mayor announce these events assuring that the greatest number of citizens are aware of and make the choice to attend. The last meeting appeared to be a last minute plan, was not well announced, and held on a Wednesday morning when the majority of people are expected to be at work. This is not connecting with the public or valuing participation by the community. No one who cares will be fooled under these circumstances. The public wants to participate. If the Mayor wishes to make this happen, he will. If it does not happen, based on the above, it is because “community” meetings” are poorly organed, and do not appear to be in any way near the Mayor’s agenda. Mayor Landrieu emphasized the importance of a “pact” between he and the community in rebuilding New Orleans at the time he was elected. Criteria for what makes community participation accessible and integrated into the Mayor’s overall planning for New Orleans is not in evidence.