Office of Community and Civic Life (formerly Office of Neighborhood Involvement) Director Suk Rhee responded to last month’s Southeast Examiner article about Process that questioned open meeting rules and the elimination of coordinator positions, previously filled by two staffers well-respected in neighborhoods. Here is her statement:

“The one (full-time) neighborhood program coordinator position has been re-designed and reclassified as the Community Connections program coordinator, which also has supervisory duties and now integrated with our crime prevention team, which is a 13- member team working daily and closely with neighborhood associations, neighbors, coalitions, etc.  Further, the neighborhood associations are also getting more dedicated support from two additional positions—that is, we have re-directed a portion of these two existing positions for that purpose.

“The idea that only certain staff or programs serve neighbors or neighborhoods is not an entirely helpful or accurate one.  That is, all neighbors and neighborhoods are served by all bureau and City staff, depending on their need or topic. For example, neighbors and neighborhoods engage with the Information & Referral, noise, graffiti removal, youth commission, immigrant and refugee, disability and other programs.  Some neighbors are entrepreneurs and work with our cannabis and liquor licensing, and others serve on advisory board and commissions, including our own bureau advisory committee.”

In reference to open meeting concerns raised by Richmond resident Allen Field, Rhee says the City’s long-time position that neighborhood associations are “not public bodies” subject to the Public Records and Meetings Law will be re-examined in the coming year. She references the issue as a:

“…confusing requirement that the bureau has required as a matter of policy through the ONI Standards and yet we are unable to enforce it and indeed it does not apply according to Oregon’s Department of Justice.

“My statement was in reference to the fact that NAs should not have to follow laws that do not pertain to them and especially if our bureau does not have the ability to enforce such standards.   Of course I believe that organizations (of any kind—nonprofit, government, private, etc) should have open, transparent and accessible practices but this is should not be conflated with what are public bodies and who is subject to the Public Records and Meeting Law.”

Field, who filed a grievance against his Richmond neighborhood association, may learn more about civic process if, as expected, his complaint goes before SE Uplift, a coalition under the Office of Community and Civic Life. The Richmond board has declined to hear the case.

In an era of civic change, questions swirl. Some may be addressed in a citywide forum on the future of neighborhood associations initiated by The Northwest Examiner on October 19. “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City” will be shown at 7 pm at the NW Neighborhood Cultural Center, 1819 NW Everett St. MP