Commentary: Super Neighborhoods serve an important role

Jun. 24, 2014Heights Leader

Let’s be honest – only the most dedicated among us enjoy spending their precious free time at community meetings. When very little is being accomplished at those meetings, even the folks representing neighborhoods start to question why they’re talking in circles and missing time with their families, or watching prime time television.

Hence, the reason why the Greater Heights Super Neighborhood Council (GHSNC – Super Neighborhood 15) is in danger of dissolving when its delegates meet on July 16 at the Heights Firehouse.

In theory, GHSNC is comprised of 12 Heights area civic clubs and homeowner’s associations, but only half of them have representation on the council.

At its May meeting, only three delegates showed up, and there were three other folks at the meeting – a city representative obliged to be there, a Houston police officer who reads a crime report and a relative of one of the delegates.

While it seems like the current state of GHSNC is screaming “go dormant or dissolve!”, the real solution is a restructuring strategy.
You see, a Super Neighborhood, can prove to be a mighty squeaky wheel when the circumstances call for it.

In the Greater Heights, the Super Neighborhood has been on-again, off-again operation for a number of years, but it re-activated five years when a crime wave created problems in the area.

U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) wanted to engage with the area’s Super Neighborhood to help solve the problem, but it didn’t exist.

The premise was that it’s easier for politicians to address leaders from 12 neighborhood associations, rather than speaking to 12 separate HOAs.
The Super Neighborhood concept in Houston came from Mayor Lee Brown in the late 1990s.

A group like the Houston Heights Association is well-known and may have more connections than a smaller civic club that few people could find on a map.

And the GHSNC is able to organize event’s such as last Tuesday’s Flood Insurance summit, in which it partnered with another Super Neighborhood and Jackson Lee’s office, to address citizens’ concerns about a very real issue.

GHSNC interim president Mary Abshier said the increase in technology and communications have often made Super Neighborhood meetings obsolete.

“The way it was done in the 20th Century is not the way it will be done in the 21st century,” Abshier said. “People said they wanted us to be more pro-active, but when we asked for that, we didn’t see it.”

Former president Blake Master said Super Neighborhoods are great when there’s a smoldering hot issue that civic clubs and HOAs want to rally around and get the attention of city hall – and beyond.

“Things have waned a little bit,” Masters said. “Petty crime and overdevelopment are the worst things to worry about (right now).”

Masters resigned the presidency after a year and a half, because he owns/operates a company and recently became a father. He’s remained a delegate with the Super Neighborhood.

He doesn’t want to see the GHSNC dissolve, and for good reason.

What happens when another extremely important issues arises? The council will be playing catch-up and trying to assemble the way it did in 2009.
Masters has an excellent idea that could address the current woes as well as potential community issues.

He’d like to see the delegates meet once per year, and stay in touch throughout the other 364 days, so they can mobilize the community, if necessary.
“We’re all great people, and we’re all busy,” Masters said. “If there’s not a pressing public issue going on, what are we doing? (yet) the important thing is to maintain the lines of communication.”

Most of the delegates know in the back of their minds that it’s only a matter of when, not if, a major community issue will arise. Masters said he’d return to the presidency if that scenario were enacted by the council.

Abshier, who accepted the interim presidency with understanding that a new president would be voted in next month, said the council’s representatives have largely remained the same since 2009.

They president becomes the secretary, and the treasurer becomes the vice president, but new voices are rarely heard.

Civic involvement isn’t the issue. Masters said the Montie Beach Civic Club has several members who are young professionals that recently purchased their first home.

The phenomenon is so impressive that The Leader featured a centerpiece package on it last week.

So, how can the GHSNC harness even a small percentage of that civic involvement into its own ranks? By giving ownership of the GHSNC to the residents and their concerns for serious issues. With so much change in the Greater Heights area, the GHSNC is an important and necessary institution. The GHSNC is an all volunteer organization, and volunteers need to feel like they’re part of something worthwhile, Abshier said.

“I don’t want a meeting where three people show up – it’s waste of people’s time and energy,” Abshier said. “I don’t think any of us are quitters, but you can’t be a visionary all by yourself.”

It’s time for the GHSNC members to re-evaluate the way it operates, include as many stakeholders as possible and to come up with a new plan for the future. Abandoning ship shouldn’t be anywhere in those plans.

By Michael Sudhalter