Here is a challenge for the hopeful mayors and aldermen – reform the NACs!
The NAC (Neighborhood Advisory Councils) began many years ago to improve the connection between government and citizens. As part of the NAC system, the entire city is divided into about a dozen areas, each with its own NAC. The NACs generally have monthly meetings with city officials present to explain suggestions and answer questions. Although many are sparsely attended, the NACs at least provide a starting point for government-citizen (or at least informed opposition) collaboration.
The NACs have been useful, but they have one major drawback in that they are inevitably largely dominated by government officials – they have no built-in elements to encourage really diverse, long-term civic participation. Why is there no strong tradition of civic associations – ie bottom-up vs. top-down – participation in government? Answer: The main obstacle to the formation of civic associations is that the NACs dominate the discussion and hinder the development of diverse communities of interested citizens.
How can we get the best out of the NAC system but open it up for real growth in our civic engagement? I would suggest that we first make each NAC independent of the government – give each a very modest amount for several years, let the NACs elect their own officers and set their own agendas, pass their own statutes, raise their own money, take positions Topics and be as active as everyone wishes. In other words, you bring little democracy into the NACs.