Facing backlash from neighborhood organizations, Minneapolis officials will recommend scaling back a proposal that would have cut off city funding to groups deemed unrepresentative of their communities.
Late last week, the city released hundreds of public comments about Neighborhoods 2020, an initiative that would fundamentally change the way the 70 neighborhood associations look and operate once their current source of municipal funding runs out next year. Under the proposal, organizations could have lost out on city money altogether if they didn’t have boards that were demographically representative of their neighborhoods within 18 months.
After taking in the feedback, the city will loosen deadlines for neighborhood associations to diversify their leadership boards, said David Rubedor, director of the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) department.
Racial diversity and participation from renters in neighborhood groups has historically lacked, with the city only meeting 33% of its “owner vs. renter” and 50% of its “people of color” goals last year. In their comments, many groups urged the city to remove that requirement, claiming boards would seek people of color just to meet a quota and lead to tokenism of minority board members.
“People wanted to reach that goal but ... they weren’t exactly sure how,” Rubedor said. “We’ve taken that in and [are] looking at more of a progressive approach.”
According to Rubedor, all neighborhood organizations will receive $35,000 in annual funding after a panel that reviewed the public comments suggested they would need at least that much to meet the new demands.
The final recommendations will be released Friday and presented to a City Council committee on May 6, Rubedor said.
The initial proposal was released in January and feedback was collected by e-mail, letter and during community meetings through March. While dwarfed by the 10,000 comments collected for the 2040 comprehensive plan last year, the roughly 300 comments submitted about Neighborhoods 2020 reflected the gravity of the proposed changes for these associations.
Some groups were overwhelmingly critical of the proposed changes, asking for a delay in a vote by the City Council and for city staff to better incorporate their feedback into the recommendations.
Rubedor said it was important for the city to move forward. “I think a delay at this point would continue to keep neighborhoods in an uncertain spot,” he said.
The Northside Neighborhoods Council, a collection of associations in north Minneapolis, had submitted a letter asking the council to reject the recommendations until several other changes were made.
“In order to provide meaningful investments and work to the communities they serve, Neighborhood Organizations need meaningful, reliable, long-term funding,” their report read. “The proposal set forth does not financially provide what is needed for the expectations laid out.”
Others were supportive of the city’s attempt to standardize the organizations, encourage collaboration and bring transparency to their use of taxpayer money.
“I hope the city recognizes that neighborhood orgs are mostly comprised of volunteers and that volunteering can be hard to foster,” wrote Katie Jones, president of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association. “Guidance, assistance and partnership with the city will be crucial for neighborhood orgs to continue making progress in these aspects.”
Resident comments were generally appreciative of neighborhood organizations and their role in bringing people together through events such as outdoor festivals, farmers markets and National Night Out.
“I know there is a big effort to ... improve accountability, equity, and inclusiveness of these groups,” wrote Ben Osborn, who lives in the Hale neighborhood. “I’m hopeful that the city ... can develop reasonable guidelines to help neighborhoods work toward those aims.”
Some council members said they have yet to see the final recommendations and that neighborhood associations have expressed concerns about the goals of Neighborhoods 2020.
Council Member Lisa Goodman said the city shouldn’t be telling nonprofits how they should be run. She said a checklist with basic criteria of “good governance” — if associations filed their taxes, if they run fair elections, if they are open to all people — could better serve their purposes.
“It’s important to treat all of the different nonprofits that the city partners with equally, whether that be neighborhood organizations, nonprofits that build housing or advocacy organizations that are nonprofits,” Goodman said.
Council Member Linea Palmisano, who previously served on the board of the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council, said neighborhood organizations in southwest Minneapolis are eager to see the final recommendations.
“Most of the neighborhood associations have indicated specifically that they support the overall goals of this plan,” she said. “They’re excited to have NCR help them reach those goals, but they are incredibly anxious to hear concrete details.”