Roseville’s attempt to create new channels of communication with its own citizens is igniting strife at City Hall.
And as in other cities seeking to institutionalize democratic involvement, a big fault line involves existing neighborhood groups.
“This is an example of a misconstrued idea of ‘community engagement’ that will not contribute to the building of community,” declared Sherry Sanders, a leader of one of the city’s three existing neighborhood associations.
Roseville is considering a St. Louis Park- and Edina-like creation of a network of neighborhood associations. Months of work by a temporary Neighborhood Association Task Force and the city’s Community Engagement Commission led to a formal report presented Monday to the City Council.
But it proved to be a somber moment, if not downright tense.
There wasn’t supposed to be a threat to existing groups, but that didn’t stop three citizen activists from attacking the process.
“I’m asking the city to shelve this document until and if community conversations occur,” said Diane Hilden, who described herself as an original member of the task force who “resigned along with several others [amid] bullying behaviors and a lack of respect.”
As she began to detail behind-the-scenes strife, Mayor Dan Roe said:
“Miss Hilden, I’m going to ask to stop you here. The testimony is on the report and I would ask you not to testify on process because that is not relevant.”
But it is, she retorted; the way the community was engaged in community engagement, she said, was faulty.
In Edina three years ago, Council Member Mary Brindle voted against the concept, saying city officials setting ground rules “is too much the city dictating what the neighborhood association needs to be and do.”
Sanders, of the Lake McCarrons Neighborhood Association in Roseville, echoed that thought: “Neighborhood associations should be community-driven and not mandated by local government. I strongly urge you not to waste time on this until Roseville residents request such action.”
It was not the night for the City Council to respond in depth, and the few responses were muted in tone.
“I do want a conversation on this,” said Council Member Lisa Laliberte. “Too much time has been put in on this [to just table it] — that would be a disservice to peoples’ efforts — but there are things in here we may or may not think we need.”
Added the mayor: “My idea was to have an infrastructure in place, a framework for people, if they want to do this.”
Scot Becker, who chairs the Community Engagement Commission, stressed that the idea wasn’t to impose anything on anyone.
“This doesn’t replace any communication the city does with residents,” he said. “It’s strictly voluntary, no resident needs to participate, and it doesn’t rule out block clubs or any way any group of citizens wishes to organize.”
The topic will be taken up at a future City Council workshop.