Denver’s registered neighborhood organization (RNO) system was created several decades ago in order to improve the dialogue between constituents and city officials over local issues. Back then, flyering doors and snail mail were the primary ways to communicate between the city government and the people it represents. It wasn’t very efficient so some very wise-minded, community-oriented citizens (an especially big thank you to D10’s Michael Henry!) came together to help the city hash out a better approach – the RNO system of today was born.
People interested in what was happening with their local government could join an RNO and receive information about, for example, rezoning applications, planning processes, and liquor licenses. They would then come together as a group to discuss these items and submit feedback as one voice.
RNOs self-identified – drawing their own area boundaries and creating their own bylaws, rules, and meeting schedules. These often formed over a specific issue area but also ended up being the foundation of some great community-building efforts that didn’t necessarily involve city issues. We have some amazing RNOs that have been going strong since the inception of RNOs – Capitol Hill United Neighbors AKA CHUN celebrated its 50th anniversary just over a year ago.
However, many, many RNOs have formed and dissolved over the years. Membership can melt away after a concerning issue or a big planning process wraps up. The people who started an RNO no longer run it because they moved or got busy and no longer send out the information they are supposed to distribute. And, sadly, some RNOs have become very divisive and exclusive to the point of excluding neighbors with differing views in loud and aggressive ways. Some RNOs with a tiny number of members claim to represent entire neighborhoods when in fact, very few people are compelled to show up to their meetings.
Given the amazing technology we have today, and how it is continuously improving, Denver City Council is now looking at re-envisioning and reforming the way our RNO system works. Today, individuals can readily find out information about which local government issues they care about by turning on their computers. The city is working on ways to push out that information based on individual desires so that you, as a constituent, don’t have to go searching for the specific items you are interested in. For example, we’re hoping someday you can pop online and select if you’d like to get notices on rezoning applications in your neighborhood or liquor licenses. And, we’re looking at ways to make it a lot easier to offer your feedback on those items – thus eliminating the need to go to a meeting in a recreation center basement, if that’s how you prefer to offer your feedback.
However, it IS great when neighbors can come together to talk over their vision for their neighborhood, problems they see growing on their street, small neighborhood projects like cleanups or planting gardens, or what they think of new proposals. Council members recognize the vital importance of community building and are visiting ways to support it so that it can be more inclusive and welcoming to those who have felt left out in the past.
So, keep your eyes on this spot. We’ll provide timely updates on RNO reform. Right now, there is no draft legislation or specific proposals being discussed. We’re in the research stage of identifying problems to solve with the current system and identifying possibilities of what our system could look like in the future. We’ll feature what other cities have done with their reforms, as well as best practices from around the country. We’ll share surveys about those practices and invite you to let us know what you think.
Speaking of surveys, District 10 RNO leadership was invited to participate in a survey that CM Kashmann’s office took the lead on for all Denver RNOs. If your RNO was registered, your RNO leadership was contacted by Community Planning and Development to participate. District 10 also reached out to our RNOs to remind them to participate. The results of that survey are expected soon so watch for them here.
In the meantime, you might want to check out the November 19th, 2020 Budget and Policy Committee meeting (starting about 33 minutes in) where CM Kashmann and colleagues have one of the first discussions about what reforms might look like.