Friday, June 6, 2008

With the Neighborhood Improvement Advisory Council, why do we need city councilors?

[Derby Lofts, home of the Downtown Neighborhood Association]

This is an old item from the Salem News, but it's always bothered me:  Salem: Neighborhood council is reactivated.  Quoting:

Mayor Kim Driscoll has announced the re-creation of the Neighborhood Improvement Advisory Council, made up of leaders from all of the city's neighborhood groups. The council was first created by Mayor Neil Harrington in the 1990s but eventually disbanded after he left office.

And the council:

  • Lucy Corchado, Point Neighborhood Association
  • Stan Franzeen, Historic Derby Street Neighborhood Association
  • Mickey Northcutt, Downtown Neighborhood Association
  • Michael Coleman, Salem Common Neighborhood Association
  • Patricia Zaido, Chestnut Street Neighborhood Associates
  • Jim Moskovis, Gallows Hill/Ward 4 Neighborhood Group
  • Leslie Limon, Northfields Neighborhood Group
  • Polly Wilbert, South Salem Neighborhood Association/Neighborhood Alliance
  • Meg Twohey, Federal Street Neighborhood Association

I notice some of my "favorite" people are on that board.  I had an indirect experience with Mickey Northcutt:  Mr. Northcutt runs the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

When Northcutt first established the Downtown neighborhood association, I was interested, and suspended my cynicism long enough to go to their first meeting about a year ago.   They'd made a splash in the Salem Gazette and their first meeting was well publicized.  The association expressed a desire to reach out to the Jefferson complex, which is in my corner of downtown.

Meeting day came, a Saturday.  I'd been running late as I was walking a friend's dog, but not late enough to miss the meeting or even be more than 10 minutes late.  In a volunteer meeting, especially the first volunteer meeting, it's not uncommon to take 20 minutes just to get the preliminaries done.

I went to the meeting place.  No one there.  Waited for a while, perhaps I was early?  Nothing.  No signage, no "someone's sick, we had to cancel" sign.

Two possibilities:  Someone screwed up.  I've seen enough screwups in volunteer work.  Some people talk the talk but can't deliver, or won't because, well, as they say, "I'm not being paid for this!"  Fair enough, that happens everywhere.

The other is that the Downtown group already has all the members they need, so there was no need to reach out to people like myself;  this is certainly how the Salem Common Neighborhood Group operates--they need not reach out to my friend Jack at the old Phillips School apartments, or to me when I lived there.

I'm inclined towards this interpretation.  When Mr. Northcutt's condo building, Derby Lofts, was opened up, Mayor Driscoll presided over an opening-day party.  For as long as condos have been going up in Salem, city officials are always ready to praise new residents as being "new, dynamic, up-and-coming people" that will change Salem for the better.

If I were Mickey I might think I was the center of the universe, just as Michael Coleman, Meg Twohey and, Polly Wilbert  do.  He has a "new, hip, downtown" residence and great property values.  Mayor Driscoll and the council need only listen to him.

Too bad others live downtown too, renters and others never considered dynamic, hip or up-and-coming.

Now with this council established, and most Salemmites permanently out of it (most do not belong to neighborhood associations), why do we need councilors?

Why waste my breath talking to my ward councilor?  He might take my call because I'm on the same commission where he is the Council liaison, but all I can do is yell.  If you're Mike Coleman or Regina Flynn or Meg Twohey, you can get Mike Sosnowski and the mayor to do what you want!  You're important!  You have Historic Property (Values!!)

All I can hope for is another cycle that happens with gentrification.  Derby Lofts was the hip, up-and-coming development for politicans to fawn over.  Now it's the Latitude condos at the old C.F. Tompkins furniture store.  Someday soon it may be the Salem Jail.

If the Salem Jail goes forward, the gentrification cycle will continue:   Pols will come to the open house.  They will proclaim the development to be the place for new dynamic hip up-and-coming residents of Salem.  In the meantime, one of the white-collar residents of the Jail becomes politically active and makes his association the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

What of Northcutt?  Forgotten.  He might get a call back from the mayor's office.  "Sorry, Mr. Northcutt.  You live in an old building.  It's not hip.  You're not hip.  You're just an old, static, unhip Salemmite.  You're off the advisory council.  Have a nice day."

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