Response to ‘Cunning, undemocratic neighborhood process continues near U’

Steve Ficker’s letter complaining about the Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association, which he says is “spectacularly undemocratic,” strikes a chord in the heart of the undersigned long-time West Banker. In my neighborhood, we’ve suffered from an undemocratic, unrepresentative process more often than not. 
 
At the present time, the West Bank Community Coalition represents hardly any residents from areas other than west of Cedar Avenue and is, in my opinion, largely dysfunctional. 
 
The recent street demonstrations by Riverside Plaza tenants against Sherman Associate’s treatment of them and bad conditions in that 1,300 unit complex show how useless — if not complicit — Riverside Plaza Tenants 
 
Association and the WBBA have been. Of particular note, one present city council member was previously the Executive Director of Riverside Tenants Association.
 
In the 1980s, the situation was bad, too, but at that time a group of activists east of Cedar had taken control of the neighborhood organization and created bylaws to favor their own control by discriminating against residents west of Cedar where most residents of color lived. 
 
During that same period, the recognized neighborhood associations in Marcy Holmes, like PPERRIA — dominated by homeowners — went through grotesque unethical gyrations to exclude students from voting and gaining representation on the neighborhood board. 
 
The sad truth is that when the City of Minneapolis works with recognized, city-funded neighborhood organizations, our model of a democratically elected government gets undermined.  The City Council and city agencies will tend to use approval by a neighborhood group as a pretext for something the city wanted to do anyway, as a façade to hide behind.  
 
But if the neighborhood group acts contrary and registers disapproval or wants something else, the city will likely say, “You’re merely advisory.” By the way, I’ve long held that if they thought it would benefit Sherman Associates, the entire city government and staff would tight-rope walk across the Grand Canyon.
 
And what can you do if your neighborhood organization functions undemocratically? Sue them over an unfair election? You may find — as I once did —that you have no right to sue unless you were elected. And the state Legislature then underscored the position that merely having the right to vote doesn’t mean you have any other rights with respect to that city-funded nonprofit corporation.  
 
Good luck, Steve, you’re fighting an uphill battle.