Roseville must be wishing it had never heard the words “civic engagement.”

An ambitious and controversial effort to move toward a citywide network of neighborhood groups, with aid from the city, turned into a “baby steps” approach late Monday when the City Council decided to start small instead.

Even Plan B drew some concern from City Manager Patrick Trudgeon.

“I would not want to put more work onto the Police Department,” he said, after hearing council members recommend an existing network of neighborhood watch groups and the like as a kernel that might blossom into a wider connectedness with City Hall.

Existing neighborhood groups have been suspicious of the effort, and the advisory groups given the task of cooking up a proposal for the council were plagued with dissent, resignations, and accusations of heatedness amounting to harassment.

The goal had been “people building more cohesive, connected neighborhoods, not just [organizing suddenly] out of reaction to something negative or ‘impending doom’ upon their neighborhoods,” said Council Member Lisa Laliberte.

She proposed “bolstering the existing structure of block captains … and engaging those existing leaders to take a bigger role than they maybe are currently.”

The system, she said, “currently works by itself and could use a little love.”

Council members stressed that they never intended to mandate something that people didn’t want, but simply wanted to create a framework for anyone interested.

Neighborhood activist Diane Hilden said she “wholeheartedly endorses this evening’s discussion, it’s wonderful. … The more formal you make it, the more doomed you can be.”

Trudgeon said he thought that they could “work this through,” and promised to return with ideas.