By Midge Pierce
Montavilla has become a flashpoint in recent debates over social justice and the use of police force. Last month’s neighborhood association board elections ushered in new faces with activist leanings to replace a board focused more on safety and status quo.
Amid accusations that both sides were infiltrated and influenced by outside forces from left and right, one new appointee stood out: Micah Fletcher, a bonafide hero who survived last May’s white supremacist attack on a Max train. He issued an impassioned plea for neighbors to come together in peace, unity and compassion.
In Montavilla, the issue splitting the community has largely spun around the issue of opposing homeless sweeps – or not. Those against the sweeps, labeled the left-leaning Portland Assembly, generally prevailed in a contentious election that followed resignations this summer of more middle of the road board members.
Ben Kerensa, for instance, says the drama became too much after an influx of new members in May. His hope is that the imbalance between groups heavily into political idealogy vs. neighbors concerned about livability can be resolved.
“The new group is more into social justice issues like running shelters, feeding the homeless,” he said. “Typically not neighborhood board business.”
Former NA board officer Michael Sonnleitner, who resigned to work on the PCC election campaign, says he sees “good energy” from the eight new board members given their compassion for helping those in greatest need.
He agrees with those opposing sweeps, but he warns of future missteps if the new board fails to reach out to other points of view. “ “I believe those who disagree with me, deserve representation too.”
Sonnleitner cites two areas of prime concern: First is the question of whether the NA should be more politically active on social issues such as houselessness or not.
The other is transparency in board deliberations. Some residents were outraged by what they consider secret meetings and a rigged election. SE Uplift reviewed the votes and declared the election legitimate.
In a blog post, the new board has indicated it would like to continue to engage the community in “some controversial topics that affect us all”.
Going forward, Sonnleitner says input should come from a wide range of residents in the neighborhood – one of SE’s most diverse – to include the “houseless, homeowners, renters, young, old, those who moved in during the last month and those who have been here for 40 years.
The politically connected have a unique opportunity to reach out to those who are not. He says upcoming NA meetings are an opportunity to “show that the board is trying to find common benefits for everyone.”
At a follow-up meeting to elect officers, David Linn, who had served on the board in the early 2000s, was elected chair. Observers say he is well-suited to navigate among the different community perspectives.