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Will the Real RNA Please Stand Up?

by Sonya Jongsma Knauss

A curious survey showed up on our doorstep the other day. Not mine personally, because I live in a little rear cottage that apparently was too far off the road for the person distributing the door-to-door notices. I found the survey at the Currents office. There were two pieces of paper — one that appeared to be aimed at gathering information about two organizations with similar names and different purposes, and the other a townhall meeting announcement. The townhall meeting was part of a Mayor’s office initiative and advertised the appearance of public officials who would answer questions from neighborhood residents about problems and concerns. The River Neighbors put on the meeting in conjunction with the Mayor’s office. Curiously missing from the invitation line-up was Third District Alderman Mike D’Amato, who, if re-elected (he is currently running without any declared opposition), would represent nearly all of Riverwest. Marlene Janson (not to be confused with Alderwoman Marlene Johnson-Odom, though both were at the meeting), a New Berlin resident who runs the River Neighbors organization, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Alderman D’Amato says he wasn’t invited to attend the meeting, which he thought was “surprising” given the redistricting. He speculated that perhaps it was his criticism of the organization in the past for being a forum for encouraging people to bring up problems but for failing to provide good ways for people to deal with difficulties on an ongoing basis. Janson opened the opened the townhall-style meeting by emphasizing how incredibly “grassroots” the organization is, and how it doesn’t take grants from anyone. That’s all fine and good, but how grassroots can a city neighborhood organization be when it is run by someone from the suburbs? The part of the meeting I was able to stay for was dominated by a man and woman from 6th Street complaining about drug houses, gambling houses, and open prostitution on their street despite repeated calls to police. They were incredibly frustrated with the lack of action. The police detective, when finally given the chance to get a word in edgewise, responded with “The Milwaukee Police Department does its job, sir!” The man also complained that he got notice of the meeting just two hours before it happened. Announcements showed up in these parts just two days ahead of time. And there was no attempt to post a notice in the neighborhood newspaper, which reaches a pretty large audience. But let’s get back to that other piece of paper, the survey sent around with the meeting announcement. Apparently River Neighbors – which refers to itself three ways in its literature: River Neighbors: A Federation of Block Clubs, River Neighborhood Association, and River Neighborhoods Association – wants to find out who people in the neighborhood associate with the acronym RNA. Both of the organizations referred to in the survey seem to aim to do good things in our neighborhood. River Neighbors holds quarterly townhall style meetings and organizes block clubs, and the Riverwest Neighborhood Association meets monthly to address various issues of concern to neighborhood residents. It would only make sense for two groups that care about the neighborhood and have similar names to work together, or at least respect each others’ work… right? Anything else would be wasted energy. Not so. River Neighbors has recently sent letters on legal letterhead asking the Riverwest Neighborhood Association to change its name. Let’s hope that in the future the organizations can agree to work together for the betterment of the neighborhood. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 7 – July 2003