Mayor wants to create office for citizen-engagement

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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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