As many of you may recall, the city severed ties with neighborhood councils last July. These councils, intended as a means for the city council and Mayor’s office to obtain input about local, neighborhood issues, were established by the city council in 1987. Members were drawn from neighborhood organizations, and each council received some funding to carry out its duties. Opinions about these neighborhood councils varied, with the Stranger referring to them as “cartels.” A more supportive view was offered here on Wallyhood.
The view of Mayor Murray’s office was that the neighborhood councils reflected the diversity of the city neither in terms of demographics nor the range of perspectives and experiences. To quote the Mayor from this Seattle Times article:
We have to find out how we reach people who can’t come at 7 p.m. to a neighborhood meeting in a community center or a church basement. They’re not part of this process.
In cutting ties to the councils, the city adopted a “repeal now and replace later” (to paraphrase from current events) approach to garnering input from the neighborhoods. Now, the successor to the neighborhood councils, created legislatively by the city council back in November, is taking form.
The city is in the process of creating the Community Involvement Commission, and you can apply! The CIC will consist of 16 members chosen by a Selection Committee from among the applicants to represent a broad spectrum of residents (geographically and experientially). Similar to the city council, the CIC will have both regional representative and “at-large” members. The first seven members will be drawn from the seven city council districts (one CIC member per district) and seven more will be at-large. The remaining two positions will be filled once the CIC has held its first meeting, expected to be in late April. All CIC members will be subject to the approval of either the city council or the Mayor.
Given the approval process, it seems as though the Mayor and city council have taken upon themselves the responsibility for insuring that the CIC is representative of the city at large. However, it’s hard to get around the fact that not all of us are equally able to attend meetings of citizen groups. I sent an email to the Department of Neighborhoods (DON) asking if there were any new ideas afloat to try to beat this problem. I got a rather comprehensive and lengthy reply back from Lois Maag which included this:
Per the Mayor’s directive, City departments must ensure that their outreach and engagement activities are inclusive and equitable. The CIC’s role is to advise and guide City departments and provide feedback on their community involvement plans with a focus on equitable engagement strategies and new ways to increase civic participation. This work will be instrumental in helping to identify best practices to City departments. Then once it is formed in April, the CIC itself will need to determine its charter, bylaws and workplan, and how it will interact with each other or with elected officials.
The duties of the CIC will be, generally speaking, to provide input to city departments (as Maag mentioned above), to identify strategies for expanding communication between the city and its residents, and to suggest improvements to the CIC itself. Applications are due by 5pm on March 1. An online application is here. Meetings are expected to be held monthly in the evenings, and the city estimates the time commitment for each member will be about 3-6 hours per month.