VIDEO: Community Involvement Commission launches after ‘long process’

(Meeting video, unedited. You’ll want to fast-forward through 1-on-1 conversation break, between 17 and 32 minutes)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

After thirteen months of gestation, the city’s Community Involvement Commission was born Thursday night.

It arrived on the second floor of City Hall, five floors below the conference room where Mayor Murray had announced the plan to create it by executive order.

“It’s been a long process,” acknowledged Department of Neighborhoods director Kathy Nyland, the highest-ranking city staffer in attendance at the commission’s first meeting. She said getting the right staffing in place was a major reason. Danielle Friedman is now on board as the program coordinator, and led most of the meeting – which you can see in its entirety in the unedited video above.

But first, Nyland offered the backstory.

The plan to create the Community Involvement Commission came in a surprise mayoral announcement we covered in July of 2016. The city’s 13 “neighborhood district councils” – groups of volunteers representing smaller community groups and organizations – knew the system was being reviewed, and were looking forward to a report on that review, when the mayor abruptly announced the system would be “replaced” by the new CIC. On elaboration – as Nyland again stressed last night – the councils were not disbanded or dissolved, but the nominal city funding they received (about $500 each per year, generally spent on meeting-room rental) was pulled, and the level of city-staff support was cut.

(West Seattle’s two district councils – Southwest and Delridge – both voted to continue operating; we continue covering them, with archives here and here.)

As Nyland recapped for the newly appointed commissioners, the mayor’s intent was “asking that an equity lens be applied to how the city does outreach & engagement … We looked at how we engaged, who we were takling with, who was at the table … it was a reminder of who’s not at the table, who doesn’t even know there’s a table … The executive order allowed us to allocate our resources differently.” Now, instead of city staff being required to work with groups such as district councils, they are deployed when “requested.”

She said the hope is that community conversation around issues and projects will be facilitated “when the idea is not in the air,” not when it is all but finalized – and that the new commission will help figure out “how do we have that dialogue?” particularly with citywide issues.

After Nyland’s departure, the commissioners were given some time to talk one-on-one with each other, followed by each one giving a self-introduction to the rest of the group, mentioning the neighborhoods where they live and something about their background/interests that led them to apply to join the commission. (The call for applicants went out in February.)

This is the order in which they went around the room; each also has a bio on the city website, but their self-introductions tended to mention something different (again, this is not a full transcription – watch the video to see and hear everything that was said):

Natalie Curtis, Capitol Hill resident, vice president of the Capitol Hill Community Council, hoping to be “a voice that funnels the needs of the community to the city.”

Ben Mitchell, Greenwood resident, who had spent two years on the Greenwood Community Council and didn’t think it did a great job of outreach. “I don’t expect (the commission) to change the world but I hope we (will) have some tangible accomplishments.”

Patricia Akiyama, Lower Queen Anne resident, said she had not previously been involved in the community but with this, “thought I could give back … make the city a better place … get people more engaged.” She expressed interest in denser development and opposition to the Queen Anne Community Council’s legal action against it.

Alex Hudson, First Hill resident, said she has the “best job in the entire world” as executive director of the First Hill Neighborhood Association and considers it “a really sad state of affairs” that some consider it “bad” to be involved in neighborhood advocacy. She said she has a podcast focused on urban planning and design.

Julie Pham, International District resident, described herself as “probably the most conservative person on the commission,” not necessarily regarding politics, but because she is a businessperson, co-owning a Vietnamese newspaper with her family and having run it for three yeras, now working for a technology industry association. She hopes the commission will “think high-level, long-term, (and) not be reactive.”

Sonj Basha spoke of advocacy for artists and LGBTQ community members as well as racial equity and “who holds the power,” having worked with immigrant and refugee communities, and being an immigrant (born in Pakistan).

Mark Mendez, Lake City resident, said the image of North Seattle as “all white and wealthy” is false. He was involved in a community group and while he said it didn’t represent “the diversity of the city,” his fellow participants were “good people who tried to do good things” despite lack of city resources for outreach. He is most hopeful about getting youth more involved in civic matters – “they can be bridgemakers.”

Jenna Franklin, West Seattle resident, said she has lived in “almost every corner of the city” and has worked in community development. Her interests include “transit equity”; she works on transportation projects for the county.

Alison Turner, Eastlake resident, said she has a background in graphic design but “changed careers” a few years ago. Her interests include urban planning.

Thais Marbles, Beacon Hill resident, said she has 26 years of experience working with DSHS and likes being “a voice for people – those whose voices can’t get out.”

Prospective member Felix – whose confirmation vote at City Council isn’t scheduled until next month – introduced himself too, as a Capitol Hill resident who is “looking forward to ways to engage people (and) evaluate policies.”

Three members were unable to attend the meeting, including the West Seattle/South Park appointee, Jeniffer Calleja.

After introductions, the commissioners delved into organizational matters, such as expectations and hopes. West Seattleite Franklin said she hopes that community members will be encouraged to attend – she wouldn’t want the group to become a “closed loop.” Holding meetings outside City Hall might help, she suggested. (For the record, your editor here was the only person in attendance last night who wasn’t a commissioner or city staffer. We don’t know how or whether news of the meeting was circulated; we got word earlier in the day from a Department of Neighborhoods media liaison – we had asked the office some time back when this commission would start meeting.)

Franklin added, “If we don’t find ways to bring this process out of this room, we’re doing the thing we’re here to undo.”

Other suggestions included clarifying accountability, structure, and how to define outcomes, as well as how commissioners will be able to communicate between meetings; staffers explained that as an official city-convened group, they will have to follow “open meeting” rules. Other questions included how to engage with neighborhoods and what kind of representation would be ideal for open seats remaining on the commission – one person suggested a homeless person or someone who advocates for homeless people; another suggested that someone “more senior” might be a good addition; and having someone “differently abled” was suggested, too. A decision on chair/vice chair(s) was deferred to the next meeting.

Speaking of which:

It was agreed that at least for the next few months, they will meet on third Mondays, 6-8 pm, at the same room in City Hall (Boards and Commissions, which is on the second level up from the 4th Avenue entrance). The public’s welcome. You can watch here for agendas as well as minutes.

(AUGUST 28TH CORRECTION: Leslie Daniels was originally mentioned in this story as a commission member; she is a Department of Neighborhoods employee.)

5 Replies to "VIDEO: Community Involvement Commission launches after 'long process'"

  • Chas Redmond August 25, 2017 (9:11 pm)

    So a group consisting of 11 people, 3 males and 8 females is more representative than the City Neighborhood Council? Somehow this seems just as random and non-inclusive as the system Murray destroyed. Sorry, not impressed.

  • Riverviewres August 26, 2017 (11:59 am)

    “She said the hope is that community conversation around issues and projects will be facilitated “when the idea is not in the air,” not when it is all but finalized – and that the new commission will help figure out “how do we have that dialogue?” particularly with citywide issues.”

    Like the the conversations that never took place when the decision was “in the air” to pull funding supporting district councils ?   The lack of process doesn’t leave me brimming with confidence…

    Good Luck Jenny,  I appreciate your involvement and hope the system is successful in engaging neighborhoods and doesn’t prove to undermine neighborhood influence downtown.   

  • Deb August 27, 2017 (6:22 pm)

    WSB – THANK YOU for covering the Community Involvement Commission launch and taking  video of same – thereby creating the only record of this new COMMUNITY FOCUSED commission.

    Ironically, there is NO recording equipment available in the Boards and Commissions Room – although city departments can bring it in for individual meetings. Alas, it appears that it was not warranted for this Commission launch. 

    I second Riverviewres’s comments; and note that the lack of transparency doesn’t leave me brimming with confidence. 

  • Stephanie August 29, 2017 (5:46 pm)

    I am not a fan of this commission whatsoever.

    First off, the fact that our Mayor cut the buget for Neighborhood Councils is concerning to say the least. As a community member of WS, I feel disenfranchized from my community the majority of the time and I don’t think this commission is going to help. Cutting the buget for Neighborhood councils was undoubtably a strategy to disconnect people and to get whatever the Mayor wants accomplished with less organized pushback. It is disturbing to me how little the communities voices are being listened to. Before making major decisions their needs to be community envolvement BEFORE the decison is made. Not a sham afterwards to make it appear the community was involved. This is a joke. If you feel this way too, I want to know how to connect with others that care about their communities and actually working with communities. Please message me if you feel the same! I need an outlet of proactive activism. 

  • 61stMama September 7, 2017 (7:19 pm)

    Wow, I am thankful to be reading all these comments on the strangely detached, top-down creation of this “community involvement commission.” I’ve been trying to figure out what the heck is going on with DON. I started dipping my toes in the district council system in 2015 and couldn’t believe the city then stepped away from it in such a sudden, unprofessional way.  (Yes, they needed to do better outreach. And yes, they knew that and needed support for it!)

    My neighborhood of Ballard has an astounding level of growth and change and no holistic leadership; what little we have, the city does its best to dismiss and deflect. And now there’s a commission that meets downtown and doesn’t have anyone from our population-busting neighborhood on it?  Our District 6 council member, Mike O’Brien, has no staff from our district, and his ideological approach to his job gets more extreme and polarized as the months tick along.  I’m sure hoping the next mayor brings back a dose of reality and respect for grass roots communities. The current focus on “equity” seems more about forcing a political agenda than engaging actual people in a local, coordinated way.

    Many thanks, West Seattle blog, for covering this Dept of Neighborhood news. I haven’t seen any other coverage. The city doesn’t seem to know how to broadcast info in a way that communities can consistently hear and respond. And we have far too little media providing regular civic coverage at the neighborhood level (especially true in Ballard!).

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