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Mayor is all set for civic summit

To join scores at event Saturday

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By John C. Drake
Globe Staff / April 30, 2008

At first he was deeply skeptical. Then he was unsure whether it would be on his schedule. But now Mayor Thomas M. Menino has done an about-face, and yesterday he enthusiastically wrapped his arms around Council President Maureen Feeney's plan for a civic summit.

The mayor said he will be on the guest list at the Saturday festival of public engagement at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center that has been billed by Feeney and cochairman James Rooney, the center's executive director, as a daylong discussion on strengthening "the vitality of civic life."

The summit is expected to feature hundreds of neighborhood activists, community organizers, and political leaders.

The agenda has a heavy focus on process, with sessions on how to mobilize people to win positive change.

Among the key topics: voter participation, community organizing, blogging, and zoning.

When Feeney first announced the idea in January, Menino said it might not be practical to accomplish much in such a large setting with so many people. Now, he credits organizers with pulling together a plan with value.

"I never, ever said I wasn't going to go to the summit," Menino said. "You go to a lot of these meetings; what's the product at the end? Her staff has done an admirable job putting focus on the summit. That's why I will go on Saturday morning and encourage a lot of folks to go."

By yesterday, more than 300 people had registered to participate, said Justin Holmes, a spokesman for Feeney. Feeney has also lined up area civic leaders to direct sessions.

They include former council president Lawrence DiCara, a lawyer who will discuss how to control and manage development in neighborhoods; Adam Gaffin, who runs the popular Universal Hub blog and will address how online communications can spur civic engagement, along with political consultant Joyce Ferriabough; and Avi Green, director of the voter outreach organization MassVOTE.

The other speakers are Ron Bell, director of Governor Deval Patrick's Office of Civic Engagement, and Alan Khazei, co-founder of the national youth service group City Year.

The keynote speaker is Thomas Sander, who leads the civic engagement seminar at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"We think we've tapped some really interesting people who are well recognized by their peers as civic leaders," Holmes said.

America Speaks, a meeting facilitator that helped organize large-scale community meetings in New York City over a 9/11 memorial and in New Orleans on rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, will lead a high-tech citywide town meeting among the hundreds of participants.

While an initial deadline passed last week, Holmes said organizers are accepting registrations by fax and online at bostoncivicsummit.org.

The convention center is providing space for the event for free. Other related expenses are expected to reach $70,000, Holmes said. Sponsors, led by State Street Corp., Bank of America, and The Boston Foundation, are footing the bill. No city money is expected to be needed, Holmes said.

In a separate council initiative to gin up community involvement - in this case with a focus on youth - Councilor Rob Consalvo said he wants the city to start broadcasting information on voting and youth events on YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook.

"If they want to engage young adults and youth, that's on the Web, and that's through YouTube," Consalvo said.

The City Council will consider today scheduling a hearing to ask the city to establish a regular presence on YouTube.

John C. Drake can be reached at jdrake@globe.com.

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