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Neighborhood association board scolded for planning 'private' town hall. Office of Neighborhood Involvement urges transparency.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: LYNDSEY HEWITT - Resident Evelyn Macpherson opposed the Montavilla Neighborhood Association resolution to stop sweeps of homeless camps.The Montavilla Neighborhood Association has postponed a town hall meeting about homelessness they were billing as a private event, with limited tickets and excluding the media.

Tickets ran out quickly, to the dismay of several residents, including Jeff Church, who opposed the board's resolution that called for banning homeless sweeps within that neighborhood's boundaries. Neighborhood division over the resolution is what prompted the town hall discussion. Church started an online petition and called for a boycott of the town hall.

Technically unbound by Oregon's open public meeting laws for neighborhood association-hosted events like town halls, where no decision-making is occurring, the city's Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) stepped in to tell the association board members that "major community events" like the town hall are actually bound by the law. Additionally, ONI took issue with the event being ticketed.

Some board members, including chair Jonnie Shaver, have recently resigned from their posts.

"It's critically important that neighborhood associations, who are doing work to engage all corners of the public, do so with a high level of openness and transparency," says David Austin, interim director of ONI. "Meetings whenever possible should include open discussion and as many people as possible who are interested in a particular issue or issues. ONI will continue to push for more inclusiveness."

The issue of a "private" town hall hadn't come up before for the bureau.

"We need to continue to review, refresh and look at policies and procedures and guidance we give to the neighborhood associations, because our community is continually changing," Austin says.

The neighborhood association issued a statement July 27 apologizing for the inconvenience caused by postponing the event, "but also (we) very much want to maintain that the input and influence from neighbors within Montavilla is given the priority when considering actions about anything related to the board."

The statement added that the board "wouldn't want to encourage outside voices drowning out our neighbors' voices when it comes to any endorsed statements by the board."

The town hall was originally scheduled for July 29. A replacement town hall hasn't been set yet, but likely will be at a larger venue, the association said.

The town hall was scheduled following the neighborhood association board's passage of a controversial resolution in June calling for a ban on "sweeps" of homeless people within its boundaries in Southeast and Northeast Portland. The resolution criticized the city's approach of clearing out homeless camps, calling them inhumane and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

It turned out that the resolution wasn't legitimate, though, because the neighborhood association neglected to include the resolution as an agenda item for a special board meeting held in June — a requirement of ONI standards.

The association plans to take action on the resolution again at a future meeting.

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