Seven weeks have passed since the mayor’s abrupt announcement that the city would lurch away from the longstanding District Council system and look for new ways of “engagement.” As part of that, the Department of Neighborhoods has been running an online survey (with promotion including paid ads here on WSB and other places). The District Councils, including the two in West Seattle, are in the meantime about to resume their meetings after the traditional August break. And Delridge Neighborhoods District Council chair Mat McBride, who turned the group’s last meeting into a rally of sorts with reps from DCs around the city, has just issued an invitation in this open letter to City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Lorena González, Tim Burgess, and Rob Johnson, which we’re publishing with permission:
Esteemed City Council members (representing D1, At-Large, and Neighborhoods Committee),
I am requesting your presence at the September meeting of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council meeting on Wednesday, September 21. The DNDC is very interested in having a conversation with you regarding community, engagement, and the future of the District Council system within DoN (we’ll also be ranking NSF grants that evening, in case you wanted to observe a DC in action).
District Coordinator Kerry Wade will follow up with an agenda, including specific time and location once it’s finalized. Your RSVP is appreciated.
Chair, Delridge Neighborhoods District Council
PS, in case you haven’t been following DoN’s Engage Seattle poll, it’s a good read. All responses and comments (predominantly by white middle-aged homeowners, which I suppose raises some ironic existential questions) are published. Recommended reading, and if you haven’t taken the poll, I suggest doing so.
Quite a few comments have been made in support of the District Council System (side note – good on you for making all responses transparent, even those that highlight flaws in this latest proposed revision of DoN). And they’re right to do so, the District Council System (DoN’s, not City Council’s) is vital.
Democracy has to be public. Not solely, and there’s a lot of good suggestions about how to enhance the process and increase engagement. But it’s the District Councils, through a relationship officially observed by the City, that provide this function. It is vital to have public discussion with City representatives and elected officials. It is vital to challenge assumptions. It is vital to provide a forum in which the public can champion or object to issues, initiatives, or proposals within a specific geography. Because at the end of the day, it comes down to people doing things. Not taking a poll, not reading a newsletter, not submitting a comment to a blog, but actual honest-to-goodness engagement. Communities are made of people that come together and unite over a common goal. Where technology can enhance and assist this process, it absolutely should. But without an established network and designated place for that to manifest, it’s meaningless. Community is local, friends, and you have to make local work.
So, how to accomplish this? The best solution is also the easiest – restore the DoN District Coordinator staff to pre-2008 levels.
When the cuts first came, and again when they continued, community leaders predicted the exact circumstance we find ourselves in today – the fraying of the social network to the extent that it struggles to provide its most basic functions. The District Coordinators served as the glue within each District, themselves clusters of communities. It’s a big job, and staffed appropriately, it works great – an individual with a comprehensive knowledge of the individuals and organizations operating within the District is able to coordinate and direct active and emerging civic engagement to promote or fulfill the goal of serving the community. The act of networking people is the single most successful way to disseminate information – we have never been able to improve on talking to each other (not that we should). Humans can consume a huge amount of data, and most of it is not registered as important. This is especially true of communication by local government to citizens. If you want your message communicated, you need peer-level discussions within the community. Since most City correspondence is dry and boring (on the surface, anyway), you need citizens who will consume it regardless, translate salient points as necessary to make it accessible, and explain why it’s important to care about. And then, you really need them to talk about it.
Good news! You’ve had that model in place for the last 28 years. By most assessments, it’s past the “Proof of Concept” phase. Success is built upon the enhancement and improvement of existing infrastructure. The dismantling of an established and proven institution, which is to be replaced by an untested concept, is – well, it’s a singularly terrible idea. Restore the District Councils, and commit to enhancing them through all the excellent suggestions for improvement that I’ve read from other respondents to this survey.
As for the upcoming District Council meetings – everyone, as always, is invited. The Southwest District Council is expecting Parks Superintendent Jesús Aguirre at 6:30 pm Wednesday, September 7th, at the Sisson Building/Senior Center in The Junction (California/Oregon).
The Delridge Neighborhoods District Council mentioned above will be on Wednesday, September 21st – as Mat McBride wrote, time and location to be finalized, and we’ll publish an update when that happens.