District Councils: Dealing With Issues or Just Public Relations?

Wednesday is the next meeting of the North District Council (7 PM, Lake City Library). In this series of articles we discuss the Neighborhood District Councils in Seattle.

Part 1: Introduction to the North District Council

Part 2: How Representatives Are Chosen

Part 3: Is the District Council a squeaky wheel or just public relations?

Do the District Councils have any real power or say in city politics, or is it merely a public relations show meant to placate voters while city hall does what it wants? Depends on who you ask. As neighborhoods get more organized with community meetings, neighborhood watches (and blogs!), residents are often on the lookout for changes that will affect them.  Though not always effective, having large numbers of visible supporters does make an impact, especially with politicians.

It’s often said the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and the District Council is one way a squeaky wheel (i.e. neighborhood concern) can be heard by city officials.  Unfortunately, not every neighborhood is going to get every amenity they would desire (parks, libraries, sidewalks, traffic improvements, etc.) because there are not enough resources to go around. Compromise and consensus is necessary, the very definition of democracy. It’s messy and inefficient, but it’s the best system we’ve got.

Also, it’s important to bear in mind there are also cases where what might be best for a neighborhood is not what is best for the city at large and its plans for development and growth. In which case, a lot of District Council meetings will result in…a lot of meetings, and no action.  But if even it were only five percent effective in dealing with the needs of residents, that’s enough to move the needle in positive terms for a forum that connects the grass roots concerns of residents with city hall.

Next: Part 4: Representing Victory Heights

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