Saturday, January 17, 2009

You Know You're Relevant When ...

For more than a few years, WPCNA was broadly denigrated as a coffee klatch club of no consequence populated by has-been activists and angry political wannabees with no agenda and no plan.

No more. We revised our Bylaws, refined our mission, and became a dynamic engine of change and reform.

To see the difference, take a look at how last Tuesday's general meeting helped shape the school district's budget process.

The school budget in White Plains is always contentious, since the budget determines school taxes, and they comprise 60% of local property taxes -- among the highest in the nation.

Nearly three-dozen activists and local journalists turned out to discuss the 2009 budget and the "community wide forum" on the budget the school district planned to hold two days later, on Thursday.

John Bailey, editor of the White Plains CitizeNetReporter, presented an overview of budgets past and some best guesses about the budget coming. (Superintendent Connors told us a preliminary budget won't be available until sometime in February.)

Then, in a moderated roundtable discussion, participants were asked to contribute their views and suggestions.

A consensus quickly emerged. Everyone agreed that this year's process had to be different given the weakness of past budgets and the severity of the current economic crisis.

Change was in the air. But so too was a plan. It was agreed that a letter summarizing the group's suggestions would be drafted the next morning and submitted to Dr. Connors and the School Board before the Thursday forum.

You can read the letter and John Bailey's report of the meeting for yourself. The letter drew an immediate acknowledgment from Dr. Connors and a few hours later, a considered and agreeable response from Peter Bassano, Esq., a member of the School Board.

More importantly, the School Board's statement issued on Thursday evening, echoed the overall direction and many of the suggestions made by the participants in WPCNA's Tuesday meeting.

The meeting, the plan, and the letter showed that WPCNA can indeed be "the voice of the neighborhoods" -- a strong, relevant and respected voice.

But that's not enough. As Pat Casey, publisher of the White Plains Times suggested, to be truly relevant WPCNA needs to develop a proactive process to complement the reactive.

She suggested we start now to be ready to influence the 2010 school budget process.

P.S. Read Pat Casey's White Plains Times article "Economic Challenges Force Spending Cuts" for additional background.

Real relevance it seems takes more than raised voices, passionate speeches and pointed fingers.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Meaningful Proactivity

If last night's Common Council meeting is any indication, WPCNA is on its way back from wandering generality to meaningful specificity.

Out in Force More than half of the speakers who commented on resolutions under consideration were WPCNA members. Too bad only one based his input on evidence. The others, unfortunately, perpetuated the widely-held perception that WPCNA members are locked in reactive mode -- giving personal, emotional, and often political opinions -- and rarely proceeding proactively, based on evidence and analysis.

But the real clue that WPCNA is once again making itself felt at City Hall were comments from the dais.

From the Mayor's Lips In his unsuccessful argument in favor of leasing the traffic island in Renaissance Plaza to the Ritz Carlton, Mayor Delfino argued that residents of the Ritz, numbering just over 100, form a neighborhood and deserve, like other neighborhoods, to have a marker that welcomes them home. (The Ritz, without permission, co-opted the island, erecting a marble sign engraved with the Ritz Carlton name.)

He said he knows the Ritz Carlton is actually part of the North Broadway Civic Association, which he gratuitously characterized as "claiming half the city for its territory."

In another facetious aside, he said the Ritz Carlton has more residents than some "so-called" Neighborhood Associations, such as Colonial Corners, have members.

Those comments, although flippant, make it clear that neighborhood associations matter at City Hall.

Genuine Proactivity At the end of the session, the Mayor stated matter-of-factly that he'd ask the Fisher Hill and Battle Hill associations to consult on the last item on the agenda, referral of the site plan for the proposed mixed use development at 55 Bank Street.

That's more like it, Joe!

If an old dog can learn new tricks and call in the neighborhoods before the plan is implemented, surely there's hope for WPCNA to morph from reactivity to proactivity?