Community Engagement in Brooklyn Park?

October 14, 2013 at 11:00 am Leave a comment


By Andrew Richter

As if government can’t find enough ways to spend your money;

A discussion of the city’s Community Engagement Initiative sparked sharp disagreements among Brooklyn Park City Council members Sept. 16. What started as an overview of the Community Engagement Initiative’s budget discussion turned into a passionate discussion about the future direction of the initiative and its focus.

Community Engagement Coordinator Elizabeth Tolzmann explained how the city is spending the $125,000 in discretionary funds allocated to the Community Engagement Initiative this year. It is divided among costs for items such as operating supplies, conferences, training, marketing food for community meetings.

I’m not sure this is necessary spending but whatever……

In terms of discretionary spending, Tolzmann said city staff is asking for the same amount for next year. Other charges, such as salaries, central building fees and information technology, are expected to go up a total of about $42,000. Those increases include costs such as cost-of-living raises, and shared costs for building use. Other departments are seeing similar increases in those expenses. Overall, city staff are requesting a budget of nearly $392,000 for the initiative next year.

“We’re allocating about 1 percent of our operating budget as a city towards what I think is the most strategic thing that we’re doing overall,” City Manager Jamie Verbrugge said.

$392,000!!!!!!

Although the council generally seemed willing to continue the initiative, controversy arose when Tolzmann said the strategic direction of the initiative would likely shift from organizing events to dealing with more “equity and social justice issues,” such as poverty, domestic violence and homeless youth. She said the shift emanated from the feedback of the core planning team last year, which includes city staff, elected officials and community members.

What??? Social justice??

The anticipated shift raised a red flag for Councilmember John Jordan, who said he went into the discussion supporting the mission of the Community Engagement Initiative but now had doubts. In his view, problems such as poverty should be handled by the county. He called equity and social justice political issues and said that’s not what the engagement initiative should be about. “That really changes my tune on this issue,” he said. “I would hope that it would be re-thought.”

Thank you John Jordan!

Councilmember Elizabeth Knight, on the other hand, strongly supported having a “seat at the table” in dealing with those issues.

A “seat at the table” is code words for more spending!

But Jordan wasn’t the only one with reservations. “I don’t like the idea of us being a welfare city,” Councilmember Bob Mata said. “I just don’t want us to be the organization that they have to come to, and we’re the ones going to be supplying the help for whatever, because we can’t do it. If a family’s in poverty, we can’t be shelling out money to every family that’s in the city that’s in poverty. But we know where to send them. … I’m all for the events and the collaborations and partnerships.”

Go Bob Mata!

Mayor Jeffrey Lunde wasn’t sure the city could do much to tackle what he called “macro” issues, such as poverty, that he sees as being beyond the city’s ability to make a meaningful difference. He also said he was concerned about the words “equity and social justice” because he knew they would spark political controversy.

Mr. Mayor you should be concerned because this isn’t the role of city government.

But Knight argued the city council is already involved in combatting some of the city’s social problems, such as poverty, through discussions about where to allow liquor stores or whether to allow payday lenders to locate in the city.

Huh? What does poverty have to do with liquor licenses?

Councilmember Mike Trepanier suggested that further discussions might help the council move beyond the controversial language and find common ground. “I don’t want this discussion to be led by a reaction to the word(s) ‘political’ or ‘social justice,’” he said.

Sounds like he wants consensus building…..

He said the city couldn’t solve these issues, but perhaps it could make a difference in the quality of life for some of its residents who deal with them. He believed, for example, the entire council could support measures to reduce domestic violence.

And what would those be? What “measures” would a city take?

Verbrugge said the Community Engagement Initiative isn’t intended to place a heavy burden on the city. “The way the community engagement process works is … trying to build capacity in the community to address these issues,” Verbrugge said.

For example, Verbrugge said, when the city became aware of the problem of domestic violence it had a two-fold response. The first part of the response involved getting grant to enable more prosecutions. But he said the city also gave a call to action to the entire community, asking them to step in and fill needs the city couldn’t.

So your response was to go get money from someone else?

“That’s what the Community Engagement Initiative is about, is building relationships so that when we do have issues, like domestic violence, that we have a network that we can bring in to leverage all those assets in the community.”

“We are just the facilitators and conveners,” Tolzmann explained.

In the end, the council seemed to support continuing the Community Engagement Initiative. Even Councilmember Rich Gates, who has seemed to be one of the most skeptical of the initiative in the past, said he could support moving forward but would like to see more measurable results soon.

Councilmember Peter Crema was absent from the meeting.

For now the council seems to be on board with the initiative, but there will be more soul-searching and passionate discussions ahead.

Memo to Brooklyn Park; drop this and stop spending our money on it!

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Entry filed under: Brooklyn Park, City Government, Community.

Eating for (in)Equity Make it……a Green Party

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