Overwhelmed by the preponderance of important citywide issues, South Sound elected officials can be excused for sometimes missing the smaller things. The big noise that clamors around urgent topics always drowns out the softer rumblings of issues-in-the-making, or the quieter voices of isolated concern.
By signing a formal agreement with the Olympia Coalition of Neighborhoods the Olympia City Council has created a communication network that will grow to be its eyes and ears into the deep recesses of our diverse community.
If it works as the council and the coalition hope it will, the city will become aware of potentially hot issues before they ignite. This provides the opportunity to work out solutions before positions become entrenched, and before little problems become huge ones.
There is a danger, of course, that the coalition could turn into a quasi-government arm, and might someday be the only neighborhood voice the council is willing to hear. That would put the council a step away from contact with individual residents or individual homeowners associations and give status to an additional level of neighborhood bureaucracy.
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But that’s not the goal of either the council or the coalition. Both entities must take care that the agreement does not develop into a filter or become exclusionary in any way and that council is always open to direct appeals from residents.
That said, the concept of the city tapping the leaders of neighborhood associations as experts on the micro-level of community activity and thought is appealing. It opens up the possibility of sharing best practices, while recognizing that what works in one neighborhood won’t necessarily work in another.
This is an experiment other South Sound cities should watch closely, because if it works well in Olympia, it could work well elsewhere.