The Riverwest Neighborhood Association: What it is and How it Works

by Jan Christensen

The process for creating the Riverwest Neighborhood Association (RNA) began in 2000, in response to the desire for a neighborhood organization as stated in the Neighborhood Strategic Plan (NSP). The group has adopted the NSP-defined mission for now: “Building a neighborhood that is: proud, safe, affordable, respectful of diversity and working to embrace urban aesthetics.” The RNA has three co-chairs, George Singleton, Nancy Centz and Shawnette Smart. It has five standing subcommittees, the Guardians of Green Space, dealing with environmental and open space issues; the Development Group, watching and educating the group concerning development issues in the neighborhood, the Holton Street Initiative, focusing on the western edge of Riverwest; RISE (Riverwest Initiative for a Safe Environment), dealing with crime and crime-perception issues; and the Bylaws Committee, focusing on the internal structure of the group. After one year, the group is in the process of adopting bylaws. RNA has been defining itself and its mission as it evolves. At present, the group has developed “traditions” that are in the process of being codified in formal bylaws. Here is a brief list of those traditions, as they exist today. 1. Membership is open to anyone who attends a meeting and is a resident of Riverwest. People who live outside the neighborhood are welcome to attend meetings, but do not have a voice in the consensus decision-making process of the group. The RISE subcommittee is open to any stakeholder (resident or property owner) in the area. 2. Meetings of the whole group are held on the third Tuesday of every month at 7 PM at the Riverwest Community Church, Holton and Hadley. 3. Notification of the monthly meetings, including the agenda of the upcoming meeting, minutes of the past meeting, and any pertinent proposals to be addressed are sent out by the technical support person, a paid employee of the YMCA CDC. Notification is sent out to anyone who has attended an RNA meeting since its inception. 4. Standing subcommittees meet as necessary to deal with issues outside the monthly meetings. 5. The group does not introduce and approve any proposal at a single meeting. A proposal must be introduced at one meeting, usually in writing, then it is approved (or not) at a subsequent meeting. This gives people a chance to think about the proposal, and the announcement of the topic on the agenda gives people who are interested in the topic the opportunity to attend the meeting. 6. In a relatively recent development, those members who wish to are included in an online service, RNA mail. Members may send in items, and a volunteer “gatekeeper” sends appropriate messages on to the group. This has allowed the opportunity for discussion of proposals between meetings. The group is currently examining the problem of reaching those who do not have computers, but we continue to use the tool to the best of our abilities. 7. The group has been using a consensus process for decision-making. This process is something the group is learning about as it goes, and there are still issues being worked out. A proposal is introduced with a presentation at a monthly meeting. After discussion, a group of volunteers is empowered to draft a position paper and make recommendations for action on the matter. The documents created are circulated on RNA MAIL and mailed out to the mailing list as part of a meeting notice. Then, when we have reached a consensus as well as we are able, the proposed action or position paper is adopted by the group, and appropriate follow-up takes place. 8. Consensus process is different in several respects from standard parliamentary procedure. Instead of being limited to a yes-or-no vote, members may react to a proposal in several ways. They may agree, disagree but stand aside, or disagree to block. If any member feels strongly enough to disagree to block, it is possible for a single member to block the action of the rest of the group. In practice, this happens very rarely. Usually what happens is that there is continued discussion until the needs of the dissenting member are met. In an extreme case, which has never to date arisen in the RNA, the group may ask the member to stand aside or even to leave the group if the disagreement is serious enough. The idea is to continue discussion until all the needs of the membership are met, with the idea that the best decision meets the needs of everyone. This process requires reasonableness, willingness to compromise, and creative thinking on the part of all participants. And patience. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 4 – May 2002