Vice-chair contest sparks discussion of Neighborhood Council’s relevance
In a secret ballot, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) elected at-large council member Felix G. Arroyo as its vice-chair at its Oct. 25 monthly meeting.
The vote tally was not announced.
The vice-chair was the only contested position when the council elected new officers in September. At-large member Pamela Bender, who co-chairs the council’s Housing and Development Committee, was also in the running. The vote was delayed until this month because Arroyo, who is At-Large Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo’s son, was nominated in absentia at the September meeting.
In remarks to the council preceding the vote, both candidates expressed a desire to increase the council’s outreach efforts to the community as a whole and increase the its relevancy and effectiveness.
“Our power depends on the community. It’s a missing ingredient to the work that we do,” Arroyo said.
Bender agreed. “It is incumbent on us to be involved in what is going on in the community,” she said. She cited her work setting up community forums around the disposition of the Blessed Sacrament site last year as an example.
In that case, the council ended up approving a redrawing of the zoning map and a variance to increase the density of the development despite some abutters’ complaints.
In response to a vaguely worded question by new council member Kathy Holland about a perception that the council has in the past disregarded neighborhood concerns, Bender said the council sometimes has to look at the bigger picture.
“I think one of the jobs of the council is to look beyond neighborhood concerns and look at what is good for JP as a whole,” Bender said.
In her question Holland said she was referring to a meeting that took place in 2002, but gave no other details.
In the future, Arroyo said, the council could be more vigilant about making sure neighborhood residents are involved early in such community processes.
“This room should be filled every month,” said council member Steve Lussier.
Last month, council member Steve Backman proposed forming an ad hoc public relations committee, and Bender said she “enthusiastically” supports that effort. She also said the council should consider “taking the show on the road.” It should visit different neighborhood associations and community groups to let them know what the council is and discuss how they can work together more effectively, Bender said.
Arroyo, in turn, endorsed that idea, but said more brainstorming is needed as well. “If elected vice-chair, I would want to spend time with a group thinking about it,” he said.
Bender also said she thinks most of the vital work conducted in the council takes place at the committee level. “Both [Housing and Development Committee co-chair] Francesca [Fordiani] and I have worked hard to recruit people, and we feel good about the people who have joined and been active.”
The Housing and Development Committee has been active in publicizing the
ongoing Forest Hills Improvement Initiative meetings, a Boston Redevelopment Authority-led community process aimed at developing design use guidelines for a number of properties around the Forest Hills Station the MBTA is looking to sell.
The committee is currently advocating for community review of the final version of the guidelines and is planning to hold an educational forum around transit-oriented development, Bender said.
Council member Kevin Leary suggested the council could improve community turnout for meetings if it was more proactive about inviting city commissioners and elected officials to discuss local issues. A plan was nearly hatched to invite a representative from the city Parks and Recreation Department to speak before the Open Spaces Committee about toxins leaching from wooden playground furniture.
Council member Michael Reiskind recalled, however, that, when contacted by the council, “a few years ago [the Parks Department was] adamant there was no wooden furniture in the City of Boston’s parks.”
The benches in question, in the Southwest Corridor Park, are the responsibility of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, Reiskind said.
The council voted to empower the Housing and Development Committee to coordinate community meetings required in the course of the Boston Landmarks Commission’s demolition delay hearing process for buildings over 50 years old. If a neighborhood association has purview, the committee will defer to it.
The council is still looking to fill an Area A vacancy. (Hyde/Jackson Square Area). Interested individuals should present themselves at the next council meeting, Nov. 27. For more information contact council chair Jesús Gerena at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The council Zoning Committee is looking for a non-council member from the Egleston Square area, preferably bilingual, to sit on the committee. For more information contact Kevin Leary at email@example.com.
At the request of the youth committee, the council voted to draft a letter to the Mayor’s Office and Boston Public Schools (BPS) officials in support of Hyde Square Task Force youth organizers’ campaign to institute a mandatory upper-level civics curriculum at BPS.
Council member Edmund Cape was empowered to set up and administer an online calendar for the JPNC.