The Neighborhood Program in Provo and the Neighborhoods In Action program in Orem may have the same end game, but the approaches are worlds away from each other.
Provo’s 120,000 residents are organized into several neighborhoods with resident elected chairmen and vice chairmen. However, some have said it may be getting out of hand.
On Feb. 5, the Provo Municipal Council discussed limiting the number of vice chairmen a neighborhood can have. After several minutes of discussion it was sent on for more consideration.
Provo’s council consists of five council members who represent districts and two who are city-wide. More than half of the current council served as former neighborhood chairmen.
Until 2015, there was one chairman and one vice chairman per neighborhood. That changed in 2015 to two or more vice chairman.
But for Karen Tapahe, program administrator, it appears to be getting out of hand. She is proposing the council vote on limiting the number of vice chairmen.
Eleven of the 34 neighborhood organizations have three or more vice chairmen. There are 10 in the Provost South neighborhood, nine in Joaquin, seven in Franklin and Grandview South, five in Maeser, and four in Dixon and Provo Bay neighborhoods.
The Provo neighborhoods program was started in 1968 when the city government was a three-person commission and it was needful to have help in connecting with residents.
For 51 years, it has been shaped and molded into the current neighborhood areas. They are designated by natural boundaries such as rivers, streets and other designations.
“The program’s purpose is to gather input from residents on the general plan,” Tapahe said. “It also was to help with beautification.”
In recent years, each neighborhood has designed its own general plan to be added to the general plan of the city to help define local parks, housing-density and parking, among other issues.
The neighborhood program receives $30,000 in matching grant money from the municipal council with up to $5,000 for use by individual neighborhoods on a first-come first-served basis each year.
“There are no requirements on how often they meet, but on certain things like rezoning they are required to have a meeting,” Tapahe said.
As far as resident participation, Tapahe said two-thirds of the neighborhood groups are active.
For instance, the Foothill neighborhoods are not as active because less necessitates a meeting, Tapahe said.
“The center of town is the most active,” Tapahe said.
When it comes to how Provo’s organization works, Tapahe said there is at least one key difference from Orem’s program.
“We actually ask for their (neighborhood chairs) voice and recognize the neighborhood has chosen a leader,” she said.
The chairs also address the council on issues pertaining to their neighborhoods.
“I love what we do on social media, but feel sometimes it goes to the same 15 people,” Tapahe said. “It can be hostile at times.”
Tapahe also said it’s nice to be able to submit opinions in a different way.
As the neighborhoods vote on leadership, she then works with those chairmen and vice chairmen. However, she connects most to residents through email.
“I can’t imagine a person living in the city without a point person,” Tapahe said.
Tapahe is clear when she talks about the power placed on the neighborhood chairs.
“They are for input. They are not elected. ... I absolutely believe in this program,” Tapahe said. “I can’t think of a more relationship-building way to get people in Provo involved.”
After more than 20 years in operation as the Neighborhoods In Action, the Orem City Council has been approached to adopt a revised program for the city.
“The challenges of 1998 are not the same as today,” said Steven Downs, city spokesman.
Orem has nearly doubled in population in the past 20 years and more since 1980 when the NIA program was first discussed. There are now about 100,000 residents.
Downs and Kena Mathews, community services manager, addressed the council Tuesday, offering an alternative name and program.
The suggested name for the new neighborhood program would be “Neighborhood Partnership Initiative.” There would be no chairmen or vice chairmen, and the current 22 neighborhoods would be reduced to nine based on neighborhood planning.
Neighborhoods are designated with similar mapping as boundaries for the Orem stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Other faiths are also included in leadership meetings, including St. Francis Catholic Church and the Utah Valley Islamic Center in Orem.
According to Downs, the old NIA program spoke to what neighborhoods do for themselves, like neighborhood clean-up campaigns or parties.
The new initiative is a partnership between individual residents and the city leaders and council.
“We are trying to eliminate the levels of people you have to work through to get direct access to the council – and it’s a two-way street,” Downs said.
Downs said that if someone new moved into the city and was interested in the issues, “they shouldn’t have to wait to get involved. We want them to be involved in the process.”
A few years ago, Orem conducted a resident survey asking what methods should be used to communicate with the city.
Only 2 percent said they would communicate through the Neighborhoods in Action program, 40 percent said through email.
“Our program is shaping what citizens are already doing,” Downs said.
Mathews added, “The community is saying they want electronic methods. Our 311 system gives them opportunity for using channels that best suits their needs.”
Just this year, the city sent a query to residents and received more than 1,000 responses, and it was in more than one language.
Mathews said this is very helpful and successful in connecting with the Hispanic community.
Members of the Orem community are busy and don’t need more night meetings to attend, Mathews added. With the new initiative, it encourages more one-on-one communication.
“They (the city) have better access to the general public and from the general public to the city,” Mathews said.
Eighteen years ago, Mathews was involved in chairing her neighborhood in Provo.
“We believe we’re on to something that is important to Orem neighborhoods for years to come,” Downs said.