Here is a challenge for the mayoral and aldermanic hopefuls — Reform the NACs!
The NAC (Neighborhood Advisory Councils) began many years ago to improve the connection between government and citizens. Under the NAC system, the whole city is divided into a dozen or so areas, each with its own NAC. The NACs generally operate with monthly meetings with city staff present to explain proposals and answer questions. Though many are sparsely attended, the NACs do provide at least a starting point for government-citizen cooperation (or at least informed opposition).
The NACs have been useful, but they have a deep downside in that they are inevitably largely dominated by government staff — they do not have built-in elements to encourage really diverse, long-term grassroots citizen involvement. Why is there not a strong tradition of citizen associations — ie., bottom up vs. top down — involvement in government? Answer: the biggest barrier to the formation of civic associations is that the NACs dominate the discussion, and hamstring the development of diverse communities of interested citizens.
How do we keep the best of the NAC system, but open it up for real growth in our civic involvement? I would suggest we start by making each NAC independent of the government — grant each a very modest amount for several years, have the NACs elect their own officers and set their own agendas, adopt their own bylaws, raise their own money, take positions on issues and be as active as each desires. In other words, bring little-d democracy into the NACs.