Their recommendations have, in the past, led to West Roxbury shops to obtain liquor licenses or entertainment licenses, and have helped to settle zoning problems throughout the neighborhood.
Their meetings bring out area politicians, anxious to see how the neighborhood is feeling, and area civic leaders in turn, anxious to let them know just how they feel. Leaders of city initiatives are urged to present their projects to them at their monthly meetings.
The West Roxbury Neighborhood Council, said Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's West Roxbury Liaison Chris Tracy, makes up "the eyes and ears of the neighborhood" for the city and the mayor. It is through the mayor, however, that they are appointed to their positions in the first place. Comparatively, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council is elected.
WRNC President Larry Costello, who was appointed before Menino was mayor, explained the process.
"If there's a vacancy and you want to be on the Council," he said, "we'll make a call for volunteers to serve...[Prospective Council members] write a letter, get 25 signatures, and then the mayor will appoint a person out of that pool."
West Roxbury residents, business owners, or organization members can also nominate somebody for Council membership. The WRNC bylaws, which are attached to this article as a PDF, do not specify whether a nominated member is required to have a letter written on their behalf or signatures in their support, but Costello noted that the letter is an important part of the appointments. A letter can highlight the nominee's community service and civic engagement history, which both Costello and Tracy said are integral to selection.
Costello was originally appointed by former Mayor Raymond Flynn, who started the neighborhood council initiative.
The WRNC has a maximum membership of 21, but Costello generally keeps the number around 12. He said if "a couple resigned" he would call for new members.
Tracy said that though the council is appointed by the mayor, they are not expected to represent him.
"They represent our West Roxbury community to the mayor," Tracy said. "They're more a tool to tell the mayor how the neighborhood feels about things."
The council makes its recommendations after hearing from residents about an issue at their monthly meetings. After hearing about a given issue -- whether it be Laser Quest's own quest to stay open later or the Greek International Food Market's bid for a beer and wine license -- the council votes on whether or not it will offer its support to the relevant city agency.
"The value is that it's a forum to hash out issues that otherwise would have no forum," Costello said.
Costello added that because the city usually holds its hearings during the day, concerned residents who work regular hours generally cannot attend. The council holds its meetings on the fourth Tuesday evening of every month at the District E-5 Police Station, those residents are given a chance to voice their opinions to the council. Should their voice be strong enough to convince the council to side with them, it will then be heard through the council by the city.
The unelected board of the WRNC stands in contrast to other neighborhood civic groups, whose leaders are generally elected. The West Roxbury Civic and Improvement Association, for instance, holds its elections in June after asking for nominations. However, to be elected to that board, said President Olivia Waishek, a nominee must be a paying member of the group.
The WRNC does hold elections each year, but they are for leadership positions such as Costello's president role, vice president, and secretary, and the vote is only open to the council's members.
Also of note in the WRNC bylaws...
- Up to two members of the council can be non-West Roxbury residents, provided they do business in the neighborhood...
- One seat -- the youth seat -- may be filled by a West Roxbury resident younger than 18...
- The council does not need to go through the city to ammend its bylaws.
The West Roxbury Neighborhood Council is currently made up of: Nasri Bahnam, Jerry Carlson, Kathleen Colby, Joseph Conran, Rob Corley, Larry Costello, Frank Galvin, Kaye Ryan, Tony Saroufim, Judy Settana, Stephen Smith, and Don Torok.