Civility Suffers as Challenges to Neighborhood Clout Continue

By Midge Pierce

The role of the City’s Neighborhood Associations under Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s watch remains in limbo with her apparent slowdown of a vote on a controversial code change for the Office of Community and Civic Life (OCCL) that would weaken NAs. 

It is uncertain what will actually transpire November 14 after Eudaly’s threats and denunciations of fellow Commissioners if they failed to support her change proposal. Eudaly now indicates that instead of a vote, the session will be an informational Council level discussion. NA leaders wonder who will be allowed to speak. 

With little apparent support for the Civic Life code change from Commissioners, Eudaly continues to blame NAs and the media for misrepresentations. 

She insists the change is needed to diversify voices at City Hall, not dismantle neighborhoods. Critics counter that the code proposal’s lack of standards and practices doom NA’s continuation as effective liaisons between the public and its government. 

The city’s Neighborhood Associations support the mission of the proposed code change to add diversity and minority representation to the ranks of official City influencers. What they object to is the lack of selection guidelines and transparency.

The volunteer-run NAs are open to all Portland residents. Special interest groups Eudaly seeks to add to the influence mix are self-selecting. Critics say Eudaly’s idea of inclusiveness excludes the NAs that embody the majority of Portlanders. 

NAs currently receive insurance coverage and funding from District Coalitions. Last month, the Coalitions received letters seeking agreement of a single year contract extension. Most responded with requests for five years or more. Without funding guarantees, Coalition staffs would likely seek more secure jobs elsewhere. 

This would be a potential hardship for SE Uplift in filling its Executive Director vacancy. Current board members contend SEUL’s diversification over the last three years puts it in a favorable position for hiring and organizational continuation. 

NA leaders fear groups with paid staffs and political motives will co-opt neighborhood agendas. 

Code critics say that, in the name of inclusion and diversity, gutting neighborhood influence is already underway. 

One example is OCCL’s alleged admission that it did not follow standard procedures to notify NAs of the code change process.  Going forward, Eudaly says meeting and activities will be posted online in Civic Life updates. 

Richmond resident Allen Field says this violates legally mandated neighborhood notifications for landuse, livability, crime prevention and code functions by OCCL, (formerly known as ONI, the Office of Neighborhood Involvement).

Field adds that OCCL’s abandonment of existing directives to increase diverse participation within the NA system is another example. 

OCCL has reduced staffing and resources earmarked for neighborhoods undermining its community service commitment, he says. 

Concerns swirl about OCCL’s no longer supporting programs like Neighborhood Watch. In August, the former Crime Prevention unit name  was changed to Community Safety. OCCL calls the change a model of  “interconnected public safety solutions…” 

The transition befuddles police.

As heads scratch trying to decipher meanings, observers lament the loss of civility. City meetings usually begin with instructions for respecting divergent views. 

Increasingly however, meetings feature call-outs of white privilege, white fragility and homeowner greed. 

While minority groups have legitimate gripes about Portland’s racist history, longtime community members counter that Portland, in the name of equity, has a leadership bent on stripping current stakeholders of their voice. 

A SE resident said that instead of leveling the field, Portland is lowering the livability for all.

Code Change 3.96 is scheduled for a Special Session of the Office of Community and Civic Life to be held Thursday, November 14, 5 – 8 pm at Self Enhancement, Inc. (SEI), 3920 N Kerby Ave. Food, refreshments, and childcare will be provided.

Civility Suffers as Challenges to Neighborhood Clout Continue

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