By Midge Pierce

Watchers Eye OCCL Warily 

Infighting within neighborhood associations like Richmond comes at a contentious time when city playbooks seem to weaken associations, according to municipal observers.

Watchers fear the Office of Community and Civic Life dropped the word neighbor from its rebranding in a push to dismantle neighborhood influence.

Now referred to as Civic Life or OCCL, it was formerly known as the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. In past decades, neighborhood associations provided grassroots checks and balances to heavy-handed government. Stopping the Mt. Hood Expressway from carving up SE forty years ago is still considered a major achievement.

Certainly, OCCL is encouraging greater participation by groups they consider under-represented. (One official off-handedly stated within earshot of this reporter that it was time for those who had never been marginalized to experience it.)

Alarms have been raised by Michael Mehaffy, Executive Director of the Portland based Sustastis Foundation, a catalyst for collaborative planning.

In a national publication, Mehaffy wrote about the lack of transparency of non-profit, “self-identified communities of interest”; the kind OCCL is adopting. He claims they are often not required to follow open meeting and public records laws, disclose funding sources or establish conflict of interest standards.

“Their lack of transparency means they are prey to relatively easy manipulation by unaccountable vested interests – so-called “astroturfing.” What seems like authentic grass-roots activism may be something else.”

Mehaffy questions who will decide which organizations and what issues will be recognized. His answer: “The City, and more particularly, the bureau responsible – the Office of Community and Civic Life.”

By embracing what Mehaffy calls “top-down, thumb-on scales tokenism, the City can fragment voices into warring communities of identity. “The city can effectively neutralize grassroots democracy,” he warns.

Summer concert update

Mt. Tabor concert goers will be disappointed to learn that the Mt. Tabor’s Summer Free For All Concerts have been cancelled for this summer for the first time in the memory of many who treked picnics up to the caldera amphitheater.

Parks & Rec, which relies on community partnerships and volunteers for the events, did not receive an application, nor one for Montavilla’s Berrydale Park, in time for its February deadline. The bureau still plans a dozen other “amazing, vibrant, multicultural, family-friendly programs” in SE out of 55 citywide.  The Summer 2019 schedule will be finalized later this Spring.