JP Observer: To Invest in JP, Get Involved With the Neighborhood Council

You see the name of this Jamaica Plain organization in this newspaper often. It sponsors lots of meaningful events every month. Before buildings are built, food is served to customers or the City of Boston or Commonwealth of Massachusetts wants to make a change in JP, this organization often holds discussions about those proposals and makes recommendations to government. Sometimes it makes proposals on its own.

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC), after its recent election of members on  Aug. 21, still has openings. This coming Tuesday, Oct. 26, at its monthly meeting, the JPNC will consider filling nine empty seats of its 20 total positions. Several people have already expressed interest.

Its three current standing committees—Housing and Development, Zoning, and Public Service are composed of and chaired by council members, but there are spots in the hard-working groups for other volunteers from the community, too. Two committees in the recent past, Parks + and Education, are dormant at this time.

In addition to the full council, both its Housing and Development and Public Service (which deals with licensing and city services) committees have openings now.

What an excellent opportunity for more community people to play an important role in the neighborhood! The council has always sought diversity in its membership. All ages, races, ethnic groups and personal histories are welcome, just as residents from all over JP are sought to run for seats. Expertise in a specific area of knowledge is not required. Desire and ability to function collaboratively with a range of different people and issues is necessary for the council to succeed.

Forest Hills resident Samantha (Sam) Montaño is the new chair of the JPNC. It’s her second term on the council. A self-identified “queer, Latinx Chicana” originally from Los Angeles, she has a lot of experience doing community organizing professionally.

In an interview earlier this month, the 8-year JP resident talked about what she sees as the underlying tension between what makes one comfortable and “the greater good.” She said that when doing community work, she believes, “Community comes before comfort.”

Montaño volunteered to take what she calls a “temporary” JPNC chair position when no one else stepped forward, she said.

Being involved with the council is “enlightening and interesting. There’s always a lot of business before us,” she added.

Committees are where most discussions take place. “The nitty gritty work” happens there,” Montaño said. The full council hears recommendations from the committees, discusses and takes the final vote on them.

The work of the council is “mental and emotional,” she continued. “There are many points of view. Meetings are long.”

Serving on it gives “an opportunity to think about what’s going on and figure out how to invest in the community,” she said

The MBTA and elected officials pay attention to what the JPNC has to say, she pointed out as examples of the group’s clout. The council “has got a lot of potential, but that’s not to say we don’t still have a lot of work to do.”

Committee chairs, vice chairs and some committee members are JPNC members. That’s two meetings a month plus work outside the meetings for them. The JPNC has no staff. Committee members from the community usually attend one meeting a month and have related work on their own.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, its committees, and its upcoming meetings, etc. can visit its website, jpnc.org. [Note: Some website info hasn’t been updated since the election.] To volunteer to run for an open seat on the council or to join a committee, email [email protected] to find out more. All council and committee meetings are open to the public, and it’s a good idea to attend one or more to get an idea.

The JPNC was originated in 1985 by Mayor Raymond Flynn. He appointed 21 people from a pool of applicants and nominees in most neighborhoods. JP, Charlestown, Roxbury and West Roxbury neighborhood councils are still in existence.

The first JPNC—with 24 members because so many JP folks applied—devised bylaws that included the rule that the council would be local residents or business owners elected every two years going forward. Now twenty members represent three districts and at-large— five members each.

That group also created committees and the decision-making system that exists today. No wonder! The first year of existence, dozens of members of the public would crowd the JPNC meeting rooms, because so many issues were pressing on the community at the time. After a while, the issues and their supporters were each referred to an appropriate committee for detailed consideration.

That first council hammered out a Public Property Disposition Process that included early input from neighbors—a process that the City adopted with few changes. Even years later, the Department of Neighborhood Development handed out copies of that process in other Boston neighborhoods still in the format, font, and layout the JPNC presented to them.

Montaño is only the second woman in 36 years to chair the JPNC. I was the first chair, elected in 1985 before I became a journalist.

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