This morning I joined a lot of other neighborhood leaders in a packed Downtown Library auditorium to hear what plans the Mayor's Office had in store for "connecting communities." If Mayor Karl Dean had specific plans for dealing with neighborhood issues, he held them close to the vest. I have to say that I was disappointed to hear him in his opening speech falling back on his safe campaign formula of emphasizing education and schools without much regard for the challenging facing neighborhoods in general.
It is not that education is not important, but unless we have a school board full of homeschoolers, then a commitment to better public education is a no-brainer. Seriously, if this is the direction that the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods (MOON) is going to take, then it seems like it has lost its broader purpose. Even the evaluation forms for the meeting that they had us turn in afterwards had a question framing the MOON mission as one focused on fighting school drop out rates and addressing youth crime. It seems to me that MOON is departing from what made the office stronger in the previous administration.
Even questions got asked in the Q&A portion regarding what the Mayor's Office could do to focus on infrastructure even as growth and development are exploding, Mayor Dean made an uninspired response about dealing with each infrastructure problem on a case-by-case basis. That's not good enough when you hear feedback also coming Mayor Dean's way that the bodies that govern planning, zoning, and infrastructure decisions have their meetings at times that may be convenient for developers, but not for average working stiffs whose jobs do not depend on neighborhood growth issues. Yes, we have a problem with youth violence, but developers also take an adversarial relationship to residents and have more money to pour into their purposes than do youth gangs.
A highlight of the meeting was the Mayor's announcement in response to a codes enforcement question that the police have just started writing codes citations rather than relying on the Codes Department to do so. In fact, the police reported that they issued their first codes citations yesterday. This is welcome news to those of us who have been put through the ringer reporting dumping and vandalism on property to Codes officials only to wait months and many times with no response. That's good news, but it is only one piece of what needs to be a more comprehensive approach to neighborhood issues.
I left the meeting feeling as if there are still large holes in the Mayor's Neighborhood policies and I do not know how he intends to fill them. A commitment to public education is not good enough. And the meeting could have been better organized to give government officials and the bevy of Council Members present a better idea of the scope of concerns that people have. A number of folks were standing in line to speak during the Q&A portion when the end of the meeting was announced.
One of those people was my neighbor Freddie O'Connell who had the best suggestion: the Mayor probably should have turned the Q&A portion over to MOON Director Brady Banks to continue to address people's concerns until they were exhausted. Everyone understands that the Mayor is a busy man. And who would blame him for needing to leave after an hour and a half? But someone should have stuck around to address the additional questions in the public forum itself rather than afterwards on an individual, "case-by-case" basis with MOON later.