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Mayor gets feedback from canceling Monte Cristo event, wants neighborhood mailers ended

EVERETT — The city’s annual Monte Cristo Awards ceremony to highlight neighborhood pride was cancelled by the mayor, but the program and its sought-after plaques will continue.
Mayor Cassie Franklin also directed that postcards and other neighborhood mailers be phased out by next year in an email sent to neighborhood leaders Wednesday, April 11.
A few neighborhood representatives spoke out against the move at last week’s City Council meeting. For example in the Lowell Neighborhood, a past chair said the mailers have a much mightier circulation versus its email list.
Others said that the Monte Cristos give a chance for citywide neighborhood pride.
Councilman Scott Murphy emphatically asked Franklin to reverse her decision to cancel this year’s Monte Cristo Awards ceremony.
City Council members last week also felt like they weren’t forewarned about the decision, and mentioned that when the budget committee met earlier this month, the idea may have been in development but it wasn’t ever aired for consideration.
The moves are part of a citywide belt-tightening as each city department is looking high and low to save money.
The city sees value in the award plaques, but “what we found was those who get the awards do not get involved in their neighborhoods,” city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said last week, echoing Franklin’s email.
An executive committee of neighborhood leaders agreed with cancelling the event before the city finalized the decision, Pembroke said.
The mayor’s email cites the city’s structural deficit and two directives from earlier this year to evaluate all costs and to rethink community engagement approaches. The city currently faces a $13 million deficit in 2019, although the city usually finds ways to winnow down the deficit by year’s end.
The neighborhood mailers cost the city about $37,000 a year to send on behalf of neighborhoods to announce neighborhood meetings and events. Instead, the city will train neighborhood leaders to better use social media and email. Many neighborhoods elsewhere have gone paperless effectively, Franklin wrote.
“I see this directive (on ending mailings) as an erosion of engagement,” said Tina Hokanson, who chairs the Evergreen Neighborhood, at last week’s council meeting. Hokanson said going paper-free may work for tight-knit neighborhoods, but they falter when neighborhoods are still working to be more cohesive.
The announced changes will not cut back this year’s neighborhoods budget, Pembroke said.
The Monte Cristo program to honor well-cared-for properties began in 1994. The city held an associated awards ceremony annually in the fall to hand out plaques and show off winning properties.
The Monte Cristo Awards ceremony cost about $5,000 a year to put on, Pembroke said. The ceremony also required about 200 hours of staff time to put it on each year, Pembroke said. It practically focused the Office of Neighborhoods solely on the ceremony in the weeks leading up to the shindig.
“We recognize the value of the awards ... but we want to make sure they’re making a lasting engagement,” Pembroke said. The 2017 Monte Cristos attracted 149 unique nominations.
“At the same time that we focus on improving engagement with all members of our community, we must ensure we are controlling costs and allocating our limited resources in the most effective way possible,” Franklin wrote in the email. “The projected deficit for 2019 is more than $13 million, and the gap grows larger in the following years. We will have to make tough decisions about how we provide services and where we may be able to make changes.”
The city’s Office of Neighborhoods and Community Engagement is operating on a $308,159 budget this year. Some work the department does includes hosting last year’s Safe Streets forums on opioids and encouraging people to go through the Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) program.
The city has 19 public neighborhood associations, of which 17 are considered active.


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