North Side neighborhood groups are leaping at City Hall’s offer to be officially recognized.
Nevada-Lidgerwood and Emerson-Garfield are among the first to have official neighborhood councils, and several other neighborhoods are applying for the status.
City officials say the councils would be official voices to City Council for the neighborhoods.
But many residents view the offer as a date with a suspect suitor, unsure if city officials will treat them any better in the future than they have in the past.
“This could be nothing more than a Spokane ploy,” said Jay Cousins, an Emerson-Garfield neighborhood leader. “Where is it so far? What is the budget?”
Mayor Jack Geraghty talks enthusiastically about giving neighborhoods more of a say in such city governance issues as land use. Office of Neighborhood Services chief Molly Myers has a top-level position.
But the two-person office could be moved under acting City Manager Bill Pupo’s reorganization plan. The office would be absorbed by the Community Development Department.
That sends a poor message to neighborhoods, says West Central Community Center director Don Higgins.
“If this is Geraghty’s priority, it at least raises questions,” said Higgins.
Pupo said organization plans are still tentative.
Myers’ office is trying to form umbrella governing committees in nine North Side neighborhoods.
So far, the idea has been welcomed by steering committees, the 20-year-old bodies created to dispense federal Community Development money in low-income neighborhoods.
Nevada-Lidgerwood and Emerson-Garfield made the transition. The West Central, Hillyard, Logan and Chief Garry Park steering committees also have met with Myers.
“It has possibilities,” said Logan’s Jeanette Harras. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Neighborhood leaders are hopeful that their concerns will be addressed by the city. Neighborhood leader Al French says City Hall has been more receptive since the steering committee switched to a neighborhood council.
“We have clearly seen a difference in attitude in how some department receive us,” said French. “We see it as an exciting time. This finally gives the neighborhood a structure to finally do business.”
Cousins is excited about the neighborhood getting a say in land use decisions. Harras hopes a Logan neighborhood council could block proposed expansion of the city’s maintenance yard on North Hamilton Street.
Many groups are applying for non-profit status with the help of city officials.
But having neighborhood bodies switch names - from steering committee to neighborhood council - is not what City Hall had in mind. Neighborhood councils are intended to have far more sweeping powers than steering committees.
“There is a challenge of changing a mind set that may have been there for some time,” said Myers.