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Activity levels of 104 associations varies

(ran East, South, Beach editions)

Some are enthusiastic; some are slothful. Some see little reason to meet at all.

For neighborhoods, the same old problems greet the new year. Some groups struggle behind leaders who get little help passing out fliers or drawing people to meetings. Some neighbors galvanize around a single issue but then fade. Then there are those who simply prefer to stay out of the spotlight.

Measuring the activity within neighborhood groups can be difficult. Of the 104 associations now recognized by the city, only 54 belong to the Council of Neighborhood Associations. And not all groups participate in the city's neighborhood partnership program.

"We don't make a judgment on what level of activity an association has to have to be recognized," partnership director Susan Ajoc said. The partnership does contact neighborhoods to stay abreast of any changes in leadership, usually during the first two months of the year.

Neighborhoods also are asked if they are meeting, and whether they want to continue to be listed among the active associations. The city tries to honor requests by neighborhoods to stay on the list even if they are not meeting, but that cannot go on indefinitely, Ajoc said.

"At some point, we need to remove them from the list."

The Azalea Homes Community Association hadn't met for 14 years when a city proposal stirred members to action. A private citizen wanted to lease a pair of outdoor basketball courts and turn them into a skate park. Local residents turned to council member Bob Kersteen, who helped defeat the idea. Azalea has been meeting ever since on the second Thursday of each month, said president Steve Montgomery.

Most associations, almost by definition, entail small percentages of total neighborhood residents. Gateway Neighborhood and Crimewatch Association vice president Charles Sanger estimates 850 households between 80th and 94th avenues N, including an area between Fourth and Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) streets. The association, which Sanger and his wife, Molly, formed in 1998, had 19 active members during 2000.

"This is something that aggravates the heck out of us," he said. The Sangers quit working as professional clowns in order to devote more time to neighborhood activities. Since then, they have seen one president disappear without a word and an increase in stolen cars in their crime watch area, and have had trouble finding volunteers to hand-deliver a newsletter that gets good reviews.

The president was their first.

"He was always saying, "Yes, we'll do this and we'll do that,' " Sanger said. "But he never appointed anybody. It got to be too much for him."

Molly Sanger has served as president ever since. Sometimes, her husband said, "Committee members and officers and three other people constitute our whole meeting."

For some neighborhoods, no meeting at all works just fine.

Allendale president Ralph Stevens acknowledged he has "a different view than most," and has become skeptical of associations becoming politicized.

"They can be manipulated from the outside or by their own members with agendas," Stevens said. "Most people know that if they have a problem, they'll find me.

"However, we should have a meeting one of these days. I'm tired of being president."

CONA president Jim Biggerstaff said the council endorses no political candidates, which have sometimes included neighborhood representatives.