The Department of Neighborhoods (DON) was at a meeting of the Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods & Finance committee of the City Council, Wednesday, Sep. 21 to report their progress on overhauling “citizen engagement.” (Video here.)
Kathy Nyland, director of DON, walked back everything the Mayor said at his infamous press conference of July 13, where he announced that the City would cut ties with the 30-year-old District Council system and replace it with a Commission of his own choosing.
“We’re not dissolving. We’re not disbanding. We’re not disengaging,” Nyland said. “It’s not taking chairs away, it’s bringing more chairs to the table.”
General public condemnation of the Mayor’s announcement has forced DON to change their approach, or at least their language. Tom Van Brockhorst of DON said this:
“There’s been some concern that we should be fixing District Councils, allowing them to…providing them resources to improve, or be better. I think that’s absolutely something that we want to do. I think that’s something that’s a part of the plan. … So, it’s an ‘addition to’ rather than a ‘replacement of.’ District Councils have a future.”
But what does this mean in practice? Councilmember Lisa Herbold pointedly mentioned the 2009 Auditor’s report, which criticized DON for not giving the District Councils enough resources (staff time and other administrative support) to do what was expected of them. Will there be more resources for District Councils?
No. Both Nyland and Van Brockhorst talked about the limited resources and staff that DON commands, and complained about the expanding “business needs” of the department. They said that the new system – whatever it is – will give the department the “flexibility to put resources where they’re wanted and needed.” This is bureaucratic code for “we will fund our priorities and ignore everything else.”
Nyland spoke disparagingly of the original resolution creating the District Council system, calling it “out of date.” She seems to think that the purpose of that resolution was to create the Department of Neighborhoods, when actually it was to give power to citizens. She promises a new resolution to “update” the resolution to reflect what the department does, nowadays.
For all their talk of “equity,” “engagement,” and “fairness,” neither Nyland nor the Mayor talk about actually giving power to citizens to ensure that the wealth of the City is appropriately shared. They are perfectly happy for the oligarchs of the new economy to hijack the land, driving out older residents and people of color, and forcing thousands onto the streets. Meanwhile, the under-funded Department of Neighborhoods provides political cover by running online surveys and focus groups.
This bureaucratic weaseling won’t work for long.