By Nancy Tannler
Portland’s Neighborhood Associations (NAs) are a microcosm of government. They are one of the first places a person can turn to if they need help solving a neighborhood problem. Others become involved because they feel a social responsibility. They are a unique institution that not every city has.
Portland NAs started as a political revolution in the 1960s and early 1970s to protest the destruction of older homes and to champion the revitalization of these neighborhoods. SE Uplift started in 1968 as part of a community empowerment movement and to stop Powell Blvd. from becoming a freeway.
According to an informative description of the origins of Portland’s neighborhood system by Professor Carl Abbott, Portland State University: “Understanding these origins helps us all understand some of the underlying tensions in the system today and the often very different organizational cultures in different parts of the city.”
The recent election night at Richmond Neighborhood Association (RNA) supports Prof. Abbott’s statement that there are underlying tensions in neighborhood associations. Three seated board members were replaced in an unexpected turn out to vote by members of the community who are not regular attendants.
The tension brewing in RNA is about growth, density, parking and biking – in that order.
Twenty year board member Doug Klotz actively solicited voters from BikeLoudpdx and Transconpdx Active Right of Way (“AROW”) listserve who lived in the Richmond neighborhood to attend the election and vote for candidates he suggested.
Klotz inferred that those up for re-election were not bike-friendly. Thirty-nine people showed up to vote and eighteen were from bike groups.
Generally, elections in NAs are representative of a few people who regularly attend and remain involved over a period of time. Rarely does this change, unless a pressing issue comes to the table.
Richmond neighborhood, located roughly between SE Hawthorne Blvd. and SE Powell Boulevard and SE 29th Ave. and SE 52nd, has been embroiled in highly-charged neighborhood meetings ever since new development in the area began to effect the neighborhood with parking problems, congestive traffic and light obstruction.
Allen Field, chair; Bonny Bray and Karin Maczko were unseated by three new board member, Alan Kessler, Erik Matthews, and Tom McTighe,
Field joined the RNA ten years ago. He became involved while planning a street party. He was impressed by a neighborhood organization that could grant street closures, gift money for neighborhood events, weigh in on local development and give a voice to the people.
Referring to the recent election process, Field said as board members, part of their duty is to recruit for the NA but, both he and Maczko admitted they were surprised by the manner in which the new board members were recruited. Bray said the mechanics of the election were handled as specified in the Bylaws, but they might want to look at changing future elections and update the code of ethics.
Field believes the deliberate, behind-the-scenes solicitation for non-active Richmond neighbors to come and vote for particular candidates goes against the existing Code of Ethics all the board members sign and agree to.
It states, “RNA Board members shall treat one another with dignity and respect and shall treat each other fairly and equally. Abusive behavior will not be tolerated or used to intimidate other RNA Board members.”
Maczko has participated in the RNA for ten years. She couldn’t understand where this came from or why Klotz presented the seated board members as anti-bike and anti density–NIMBY’s. Both Field and Maczko are cyclists.
“This isn’t true,” Field said. He and Klotz have mostly disagreed on how growth should occur not bike issues. Field wants any new development to include some a minimum of parking requirements and height restrictions. He said Klotz is pro-high density, anti-car.
The odd thing Maczko said about the evening was that the new group that showed up, “appeared angry – so I knew something was up.”
When The Southeast Examiner questioned Klotz about the election he said, “It’s time to move forward with addressing the issues facing the neighborhood, rather than dwell on past events.”
Newly-elected board member Erik Matthews is a long time Richmond neighbor who recently located his business here. He’s attended RNA meetings and decided to throw his name in the hat to be on the board because he understands that this neighborhood and the city is undergoing a lot of changes and growth and he wants to be a part of the community process.
When questioned about the election process, he said the night’s events are “…open for interpretation. I know that feelings were hurt.” He will have a better understanding after the RNA board discusses the issue.
The new chair Cyd Manro has attended RNA meetings for six years. He is an avid cyclists and has been on the board since 2010.
He said, “As chair, it is my goal to facilitate a respectful forum for neighbors to collaboratively and effectively address the livability and cohesiveness of the Richmond neighborhood through dialogue, projects, agreements, and decisions.”
As far as his take on the election process, Manro said he is beginning to gather facts and to let each person who participated in the election have an opportunity to state what they observed and how they felt about it. SE Uplift is providing meeting space and guidance.
Anne Dufay, Executive Director of SE Uplift, said that they will be witness to and facilitate any meetings the RNA proposes. At this juncture, they aren’t going to pre-judge the situation.
Like everyone else, Dufay believes that participation in neighborhood associations is empowering and can bring about positive change. She also brings out the fact that this is the age of the internet and people will need to rethink the way elections are held. A good example is how President Obama was elected in 2008.
Whether the issue is density, biking, the Comp Plan, transit corridors, etc. – it’s the people on the streets and in the neighborhoods who really know what the effect of decisions made by the City of Portland will have.
Neighborhood Associations have the ability to influence these decisions. That is why it is important for members of NAs to understand and follow the Code of Ethics and By Laws, otherwise special interest projects and tension in the ranks can break down the intention of what’s best for the common good.
Manro is confident the wisdom of Richmond neighbors and board members will effectively assess and respond to this recent event.
A website and listserv will be updated with information about when and where the special board session occur: See richmondpdx.org.