By Nancy Varekamp | CNews Editor
You haven’t heard the Office of Community & Civic Life (OCCL) has plans to change the ordinance that governs Portland’s neighborhood associations, neighborhood coalitions and business districts? Where have you been?.
“It is a complicated story we’re trying to share with you,” Suk Rhee told about 40 Concordians at the local neighborhood association’s annual meeting early last month.
She’s the OCCL director, hired two years ago, and is trying to assure all Portlanders the opportunity to participate in their city government. The original 1974 ordinance – which created neighborhood associations – carried several requirements. They must hold open meetings, take fiscal responsibility and provide the opportunity for anyone who lives or owns property within their boundaries to participate.
According to media reports during the past six months, the draft revisions omitted all mention of neighborhood associations and any geographic representation of Portlanders.
During the past year of conversations with residents of diverse Portland groups, Suk said she heard from residents who believe there is racial, disability and social injustice in participating in government.
“We need to meet community where they’re at,” explained OCCL staffer Sabrina Wilson. “We need to go beyond the current network to where they’re at: youths, native Americans, houseless communities, the aged.
She said ordinance authors considered, “How do we open the doors even wider? It’s not to take away and give to anybody else.”
Several Concordians took exception to the concept neighborhood associations can’t represent the diversity of Portlanders
“We’re a model for the country for citizen engagement,” pointed out Bob Boyer, one of Concordia Neighborhood Association’s (CNA’s) founders, former CNA chair and former state senator.
Another Concordian scoffed at the results of a survey that engaged just 1,000 people in a city of 650,000-plus.
Ike Harris, CNA board member, also cast doubt on the process, and he criticized the absence of input into the draft from neighborhood associations. “Why did [city commissioner Chloe] Eudaly not meet with neighborhood associations herself, as opposed to doing this in a clandestine way, sneaking it in?”
Kelvin Hall recommended the commissioner visit the neighborhood associations and work with them. He believes city leadership has gone afoul. “This process will be and continue to be in conflict until they clarify their vision.”
Following the local meeting, the city announced the brakes have been applied to changing the OCCL governing ordinance.
For detailed coverage on OCCL’s plans for the next three years, visit the Portland Mercury at: bit.ly/33U4nCB.
Nancy Varekamp is semiretired from her career in journalism, public relations and – her favorite work engagement – writing and editing targeted newsletters.