Rainy, dreary weather inhibited the attendance, but not the attention. Nor the questions.
A small group of concerned citizens gathered on a recent evening for the monthly meeting of the Huntsville Council of Neighborhood Associations, eagerly engaging in dialog with representatives of Google Fiber. Representatives were peppered with questions on everything from installation to customer service to the timeline in which service would arrive at their respective neighborhoods.
“I’ll give them full credit for their enthusiasm and their passion,” said Kenny Anderson, Multicultural Affairs Officer for the City of Huntsville and the group’s liaison with city government.
“The advantage (of the Council) is you have greater awareness of community issues throughout the city,” said president Lyle Voyles, who represents the Chaffee neighborhood in south Huntsville. The members have “a commonality and concern in maintaining communities city-wide,” he said.
The Huntsville Council of Neighborhood Associations was initiated by Mayor Tommy Battle and is a coalition of 31 associations from every corner of the city. According to Anderson, most are “non-traditional in terms of being like typical Home Owners Associations” that often impose fees and establish neighborhood covenants.
“The members are very passionate individuals,” Anderson said. “They typically live in older neighborhoods. They tend to be long-time residents, and they are actively engaged in the civic responsibilities that come with being a resident of the community.”
Each of the individual associations represented on the Council has its own rules and mode of operation.
“These monthly meetings at City Hall help connect them to the City and to other entities that serve them. They learn who to call to answer questions and help solve problems.”
“There are varying degrees of engagement,” Anderson said. “You have some that meet on a monthly basis, some are quarterly or less. They have events like community cleanups, they have neighborhood picnics and some communities even have movie nights where they have a big wall and they project a movie on it and have popcorn and cotton candy.”
Many of the individual associations most avidly represented at the Council meetings share a goal “to maintain and reclaim old neighborhoods,” Voyles said.
Anderson is a resource for neighborhoods wishing to form their own associations. He has a document in a bookcase that he shares with community leaders that’s a simple blueprint. He is tweaking the document for presentation on the City’s website.
“I’ll talk to people about how they might go about the procedure,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a standard, uniform process. They don’t have to have dues. They have to have some leadership structure and they might choose to take up some particular cause.”
Mayor Battle looks at the Neighborhood Associations as an opportunity for to improve communications.
“The groundwork that’s done within this group is important work,” Battle said. “These are the people that are engaged on a daily basis taking care of the city, and we need to hear their voices.”
“Meanwhile,” Battle continued, “these monthly meetings at City Hall help connect them to the City and to other entities that serve them. They learn who to call to answer questions and help solve problems.”
“We bring in key people with a lot to contribute,” Voyles said. “There are programs out there to help people and we need to make them aware of it.”