Neighborhood Boards in need of a tuneup
After more than three decades, it is clear that O'ahu's forward-looking Neighborhood Board system is due for a tuneup.
That was the message in a new review of the system by the City Auditor's office. The bottom line: The system lacks clear lines of authority and accountability.
Fair enough. And after years of benign neglect, it is time to give a fresh look at procedures and operations of this venerable experiment in citizen civic participation.
But it is imperative that the system retain its independence and grassroots quality. There is nothing to be gained by making this another bureaucratically bound arm of municipal government.
The biggest threat to the Neighborhood Board system in recent years came through former Mayor Jeremy Harris' "vision teams," in which groups were empowered with a chunk of city cash to dream up and fund local improvement projects.
It was an interesting idea that resulted in some fine community improvements, as well as some extravagant exercises in pointless spending of tax dollars. But it was no substitute for the more organic function of the Neighborhood Boards.
The Neighborhood Board system, launched under the supervision of former Mayor Frank Fasi, has a much different focus. There is no money to be handed out and little glory attached to board service.
And that is its virtue. When they are working well, they represent the best of grass-roots democracy.
The strongest elements of the audit focus on procedural issues. Neighborhood Board members need stronger training in open meeting or "sunshine' laws and even in basic parliamentary procedures.
There is also a need to encourage greater participation so that all areas of O'ahu are properly represented. These issues can be addressed through education and training.
But the city should be careful not to make the boards just another rules-bound, bureaucratic organization. Their beauty, when they are working as they should, is that they offer grass-roots, independent voices a chance to be heard at city hall.
That's too valuable a function to be lost.