Twenty three people attended the Neighborhood Support Network’s December 1, 2015 meeting on City / Neighorhood Interactions at the Quincie Douglas Library. Neighborhoods represented include Broadmoor-Broadway, Cabrini, Jefferson Park, Peter Howell, Blenman Elm, El Encanto Estates, Palo Verde, Ironwood Ridge, Campus Farms, Barrio Hollywood, Santa Cruz Southwest, Rillito Bend, Doolen Fruitvale, Richland Heights East, Garden District and Barrio Nopal. The City of Tucson was represented by personnel from the Office of Integrated Planning (OIP) / Neighborhood Resources, Ward 6 and Ward 3. The meeting agenda is here.
Neighborhood Registration – City Constraints
The City of Tucson has long supported neighborhood groups. Though the resources dedicated to this support have declined significantly in recent years, there remains a desire on the City’s part to coordinate information about and maintain a connection with neighborhoods and groups representing them. The City has a registration process for neighborhood associations with required and recommended elements that provide structure and guidance for neighborhood groups, with the goals of smooth functioning and fair representation of neighborhood stakeholders.
The City of Tucson operates under a number of constraints which transfer in part to neighborhood associations when they register with the City. Some of these constraints come from state and federal law and some come from Tucson Mayor and Council policy, and related regulations, laid down through the years. For example, neighborhood associations that want to be registered with the City cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, property ownership, etc. in their membership and activities. State law says that the City cannot expend resources for political advocacy prior to elections. This has consequences for its registered neighborhood associations (e.g. meeting notices, newsletter content). Other constraints are contained in documents on the City Neighborhood Resources’ web page.
Attendees at the meeting agreed that better clarifying what these constraints are and how they affect neighborhood associations is a job to be done. Separating legal restraints from policy-based regulations would be helpful in promoting clear understanding by all involved. Some other suggestions brought forth include:
- Easier posting of the latest association newsletters on the Neighborhood Resources web page (including those produced with no City support)
- Creation of a frequently asked questions document for neighborhood leaders with answers and advice on common problems, and clarifying when to call the Ward Office vs. calling Neighborhood Resources
- Exploring the possible opening up of City notification listservs and other electronic communication tools to wider audiences
- Possibly revising / updating the sample bylaws document on the OIP/Neighborhood Resources web page.
Bylaw Tweaking and Neighborhood Association Operations
This part of the meeting was about possibilities for improvements in neighborhood association bylaws and general management issues.
One of the areas where some neighborhoods have problems relates to membership in the association and who can vote. Most of the attendees at the December 1 meeting were happy with the way their bylaws described member requirements and suggested that reading a sampling of bylaws as posted under neighborhood listings on the City’s Neighborhood Resources page would be helpful to those looking to make a change.
Those with problems often had vague descriptions of how businesses and non-resident property owners and groups could be members. Problems came with voting when more than one person per business or non-resident property ownership group wanted to vote, or non-residents owned more than one neighborhood property. Specifying these issues in bylaws and using standard voting procedures may prevent problems that occasionally arise. Some work will be done with membership and voting language to offer alternatives for associations to consider.
Other possible changes to association operating procedures included looking at how association members have access to agenda setting and members’ subsequent ability to bring issues before other neighbors at meetings. Maintenance of order in a meeting may be challenged when there are members with issues who felt they had no access to discussing them with the group. Bylaws may or may not refer to procedures for removing troublesome board members or elected officers. Information sharing may be inappropriately cut off based on personality issues.
Neighborhood communication remains a challenge. Fair access to neighborhood proceedings, votes and elections depends on knowing when and where association meetings or events will occur. The City of Tucson continues to pay for printing and mailing to all addresses of only one postcard or newsletter per association per year. Sometimes, important events come up where everyone should be notified of pending actions or decisions. New residents move into a neighborhood. Multiple electronic communication channels must be maintained. Contacting everyone, especially those without computer access, is difficult despite best intentions.
Among desirable improvements to City services for neighborhoods mentioned in the meeting were increased newsletter mailings, help with setting up neighborhood websites, more open access to City notifications, improvements in the City’s Neighborhood Resources web pages and training for boards and elected officers.
(Postscripts: A followup meeting was held among NSN, OIP/Neigh Resources, Wards 3 and 6 Council Aides on December 9, 2015. The City plans a follow up meeting for all those active in neighborhoods sometime early in 2016. Prior to that meeting, OIP plans to work with the City Attorney’s Office on the legal/policy questions related to neighborhood registration. Outcomes of this work will be on the agenda of the follow up meeting. Also being pursued are leadership training needs assessment and course planning, along with creation of short video segments on association management issues and an FAQ document, both to be linked from the Neighborhood Resources page.
A new training initiative is starting off with a session on Training on How to Reach Out to Your Neighbors on Important Issues Using Canvassing. This training, for those active in neighborhoods, is being offered by Ward 3 Council Aide Judith Anderson on Saturday January 16, 2016 10:30 AM – 2:00 PM. You may register or request more information by emailing Gloria McMillan or calling 520-623-8905.)