The outspoken leaders in three neighborhoods hit by the June flood haven’t been the least bit bashful at letting the City Council know what it is doing wrong with the city’s flood recovery.
This week, those leaders – Michael Richards in Oak Hill/Jackson, Frank King in Time Check and Greg Stokesberry wit South West Area Neighbors — got some push back from the City Council.
The three neighborhood presidents had pitched proposals for the council to consider among 19 others as the council decided how to divide up $10,160,406 in special state funds as part of a new state Community Disaster Grant program.
Stokesberry was seeking $41,500 to help in the development of his neighborhood’s association. And all three presidents – aligned in a newly-created umbrella association called River Neighborhoods Alliance — were seeking $37,000 to create a new program called “Once-a-Neighbor Always-a-Neighbor” and $100,000 to create a peer advocacy center. Dianne Yanda, president of the Cedar Valley Neighborhood Association, also is listed as a member of the new neighborhood alliance.
In short, they didn’t get their money.
A council consensus converged around the thought that another of the proposals before the council, which did not come from this group of neighborhood leaders, was for a $100,000 grant to help with neighborhood organizational development. This proposal called for working with flood-impacted neighborhoods to strengthen their community connections and to advocate for their needs.
The council decided that the neighborhood organizations could work with the city to best figure out how to spend the $100,000.
Council member Justin Shields put it most bluntly when he said from what he could see there has been quite a bit of “disarray” among neighborhood associations and the arrival of some new faces on the scene as well.
“It’s a poor time to just start throwing money at them,” Shields said.
Council member Jerry McGrane, a member of the Oak Hill/Jackson Neighborhood Association and the group’s past president, said he wasn’t sure that the South West Area Neighbors had held a meeting in six months.
To all this, Oak Hill/Jackson’s Richards says City Hall is only willing to give “lip service to direct involvement” from existing neighborhood associations.
“Paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars for out-of-state consultants to ‘foster neighborhood governance’ is a very shallow and costly sham,” Richards says.
What all of this translates to in the larger picture is an unfolding drama that centers on just how much grass-roots-directed neighborhood leadership there should be versus how much City Hall-assisted neighborhood leadership there should be.
In the last two weeks, the neighborhood leaders also took it a bit on the chin after Stokesberry, Richards and King “demanded” that the city’s new Local-Option Sales Tax Oversight Committee include strong representation from the city’s flooded neighborhoods.
All three were among the 71 applicants for the committee. King withdrew his name, and the other two weren’t picked in a group of 24 finalists. Jon Galvin, vice president of Northwest Neighbors Association, was chosen, but then withdrew his name in protest.
Richards has said none of the 24 finalists is a neighborhood association member as far as he knew. But at the same time, he has said he and others will be providing plenty of sales-tax oversight whether they are on the committee or not.
To the great credit of most of these neighborhood association chiefs, they have taken time to be a part of City Hall-orchestrated Neighborhood Planning Process that will has been gathering more than 200 people together in eight workshops over four months to help create a game plan for neighborhood flood recovery.
Every time the sometimes-frustrated Richards has been asked about the city-led initiative, he has said he wouldn’t miss being a part of it.
As for the $10.1 million that the council handed out this week, about half went to fill flood-recovery gaps on the housing side and half on the business side. Included in the grants is $1.5 million to start a Neighborhood Development Corp., which will set up shop in one of the flood-damaged neighborhoods and focus on housing and commercial redevelopment in those neighborhoods. Habitat for Humanity also received $1 million to help it build 20 new homes this summer.