Power does not come from the City. The Mayor did not take away our power when he cut the City’s ties to the District Councils on July 13. He took away room-rental money and some minor staff support. We feel powerless because we have let power slip away from us into the hands of money-worshiping ideologues.
If neighborhoods are to have power we must work together, within our geographic communities and beyond. There was a time when the City supported this idea.
“The role of a true leader is to empower others,” said Jim Street, who sponsored the City Council resolution that created the Neighborhood Planning and Assistance Program in 1987. “Neighborhood priorities are not necessarily the Mayor’s priorities or the City Council’s priorities.” The Neighborhood Program was intended to give people power to achieve their own objectives. “We wanted to tap the energy of the grassroots.”
Jim Diers was the first Director of the Department of Neighborhoods. At the panel discussion, he emphasized the importance of community empowerment and citizen participation. “We’ve forgotten our own power,” he said. “You can’t do it with individuals. You need connections. You need associations.” When the Neighborhood Program was new, “we recognized vibrant, unique neighborhoods and active citizens.” (See Jim’s Op-Ed in the Seattle Times.)
Lee Carter, who led one of the earliest neighborhood groups – the Central Area Community Council Federation – said that the Mayor’s decision to cut ties was “the best thing that could happen,” because it re-emphasizes the importance of self-reliance in the neighborhoods. “You can’t take City money and fight City Hall,” he said.
On the other hand, the City can get in the way. Mayor Murray’s Executive Order commands that by September 26, the Department of Neighborhoods will create a new system for “community outreach and engagement” and deliver to the City Council an ordinance to make it law. Such a new system could suck up all the oxygen around this issue, making it even more difficult for neighborhoods to organize themselves.
Nick Licata, former City Councilmember and citizen activist, moderated the panel. He noted that one week after the ordinance is introduced on Sept. 26, the City Council will begin to address the City budget. There will be no time or attention to adequately get public input about the Mayor’s proposal for the neighborhoods. Nick advises that we urge the Council to put off consideration of the new ordinance until January of next year, to provide time for adequate public discussion and debate.
The 50 people who attended the panel discussion are clearly ready for action, but the direction forward is not clear. There were calls for a “neighborhood summit” and for a leader to step forward. There was also an extremely clear sentiment that Ed Murray should be a one-term Mayor.
More to come on this…
P.S. Kudos to Bill Bradburd, chair of the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition, who arranged this informative and invigorating discussion! For a list of panelists, see Bill’s meeting announcement.