Dayton is close to creating a new structure for citizen involvement, de-emphasizing the decades-old Priority Boards in favor of a neighborhood-based, project-focused framework called Dayton is Yours.
Aaron Sorrell, director of the city’s department of planning and community development, recently explained the proposal to city leader. He cited three key issues – focusing on the city’s 60-plus individual neighborhoods rather than the seven larger Priority Boards, engaging young residents and renters, and getting better communication between city administration and residents.
“What we heard from the 200-plus people we talked to is that it’s easier to get people engaged about projects and programs than about a meeting,” Sorrell said. “So what we’re trying to provide are lots of opportunities for small wins to get people moving forward.”
Sorrell said the city has helped residents with 36 neighborhood cleanups this year and will award 12 mini-grants worth $45,000 next week to help neighborhood groups accomplish projects they proposed.
City Manager Tim Riordan said he’s liked the plan more and more as it’s gone through a year of research, feedback and adjustment. He said he wants City Commission’s blessing before the plan moves forward.
City Commissioner Joey Williams was hesitant to embrace the new system Wednesday, saying he is “sensitive to the legacy of the Priority Boards,” and wants to hear how the city would handle the transition from one system to another.
Southeast Priority Board Chairman Fred England Jr. said his existing board can function effectively, and he said while Neighborhood Associations are vital, he’s worried about the city taking the focus down to that level.
“That system would be great if all your Neighborhood Associations ran (well),” England said. “But some don’t work and some don’t have participation. … My opinion is if you have one little neighborhood with only a few blocks in it, and only a handful of people come to the meeting, if they join with the Priority Board, they make their voice bigger.”
Sorrell acknowledged the need to develop more neighborhood leaders, with effective Neighborhood Associations tutoring others that need help. Bill Marvin, president of the Five Oaks Neighborhood Association, said his group has already started some do-it-yourself improvement efforts and worked on better communication with city offices.
Sorrell said he hopes to present a formal document in about a month, explaining how city staffers’ time would be reoriented away from Priority Boards and toward Neighborhood Associations, and detailing who would be responsible for what.
If City Commission agrees, they would approve a resolution adopting that strategy.