The Council of Neighborhood Associations – hurting from an elimination of local grant funding in 2013 and a steep drop in membership – has lost another key member.
The Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association recently voted to withdraw from CONA, the advocacy organization whose goal is to represent neighborhood groups before the city and other stakeholders.
John Seibert, president of the Kenwood Neighborhood group, said the board voted in August to withdraw from CONA for the remainder of 2013.
Seibert said the decision at this point is largely symbolic. He said Kenwood Neighborhood Association members hope to send a message to CONA leadership. At issue is concern about whether CONA is well-representing the interests of the Historic Kenwood Association.
Said Seibert: “We wanted to get assurances that CONA was sticking to its published mission of uniting the neighborhood associations,” of which there are about 60 active groups.
“We hope they will rejoin and participate again,” said Kurt Donley, CONA president. “Really, in my mind it has been a big misunderstanding.”
The 23-year-old neighborhood association is considered one of the better organized and more effective groups. It is one of the few that is a registered non-profit or 501(3)c.
The Council of Neighborhood Associations is not a 501(3)c.
This year has been a challenging one for all of the city’s neighborhood associations, as the city’s $250,000 grant program was defunded. Mayor Bill Foster is offering to put $30,000 in the fund for next fiscal year, but some council members are calling for the neighborhood grant program to be fully refunded.
Now CONA finds itself in a spat with the Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association.
Seibert cited a visit from some CONA leaders who had appeared to be taking a stance against electronic billboards, when the proposal came before the city.
Many Historic Kenwood Neighborhood members had supported electronic billboards because Clear Channel promised to remove a lot of its printed billboards. Many were in the Kenwood neighborhood.
In addition, some members felt that CONA had not argued strongly enough in support of the anti-panhandling ordinance that the city adopted. Likewise, Kenwood leadership wanted to see a harder line by city code enforcement toward motels on 34th Street that have fallen into disrepair.
“We thought we had cleared everything up with Kenwood,” Donley said. “We were disappointed they decided to do that. They are a well-respected organization. We try to support all our organizations.”
“CONA is a good organization. We don’t want to lose that,” said Seibert.
Seibert added that there does seem to be the feeling by neighborhood groups that CONA does not have the influence with the city that it once enjoyed. “There is the perception that it’s influence is waning, particularly in the past year.”
The following is the mission statement of CONA:
- Unite existing neighborhood organizations dedicated to protecting, improving and promoting their area and to foster the formation of such organizations.
- Provide training to and guidance for neighborhood leaders in marshaling resources to better their community.
- Expand the pool of skilled and motivated neighborhood and community leaders.
- Promote communication and cooperation between member organizations and the community at large.
- Provide a forum for member organizations and act as their advocate with the City of Saint Petersburg and other local, state, and federal government agencies and officials.