According to Jessica Lee’s informative MinnPost article (2/6/19) on City Hall, Mayor Frey and City Council member Palmisano say they recognize the need for City government to “collaborate” as elected officials and with the city residents they serve. In my professional opinion, based on nationally recognized expertise in community and systems change collaboration, I find very little evidence Minneapolis city government has collaborative relationships with city residents or their community and neighborhood organizations.
Collaboration requires shared decision-making power. It requires mutual respect, learning, and accountability for results. In my view, there is no evidence City Hall practices sharing power in collaboration with its communities and neighborhoods nor substantial mutuality. To the contrary, City Hall replaced its only legitimately collaborative program – the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) – with an engagement program in the City Coordinator’s Office called Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR). NCR policies and programs greatly increased ambiguity, which always diminishes accountability, by replacing the clarity of NRP shared decision-making with engagement which, according to the NCR provides “a feeling of being represented.”
To put it bluntly, City Hall’s practice of engagement means residents can comment on its top-down, citywide initiatives, such as the 2040 Comp Plan and the 2020 Neighborhood Plan, and their recommendations can be completely ignored. Unfortunately, city residents/stakeholders and their community and neighborhoods organizations have become immersed in the diversions and illusions of time-consuming engagement which intentionally limit possibilities for change representing the desires and priorities of those most affected by change.
City Council member Steve Fletcher put it this way: “There’s going to be that tension (from) people whose voices have been heard — they’ve been at table — they’re losing power. We saw that expressed in the debate around 2040 plan. We’re seeing it in the Neighborhoods 2020 conversation,” (There’s) legitimate anxiety about what does that change mean. …We are creating healthy tension in the community.”
Healthy tension? To paraphrase Bob Dylan, you never saw the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns when they did tricks for you. Engagement may be a circus for City Hall but growing numbers of city residents are refusing to be amusing and know what they want to eat.