Island Station neighborhood funding successful crime watch
I don't know why Ms. Ober, Milwaukie city manager, would say that the Island Station Neighborhood District Association's use of its funds to pay Mr. Denham's legal bill doesn't comply with the city's guidelines for use of neighborhood funds (as reported in last week's news story, "Milwaukie demands return of funding"). The city has not explained its position, other than Mr. Denham's bills were "personal."
This is an explanation for why I think the payment does qualify as an appropriate use of neighborhood funds:
For more than two decades, the neighborhood has carried on a program to maintain and beautify the neighborhood park. The program has included neighbors donating thousands of hours of their time removing invasive species, planting and tending native species, and making the park more accessible to visitors, like building and maintaining trails. Returning the park to native plant species improves the environment for the entire neighborhood, attracting wildlife absent for some time.
Members of the neighborhood maintain and beautify the park by conducting litter-removal patrols, as well as scouting for and reporting unlawful uses of the park, such as camping and starting fires.
The neighborhood has recently revitalized the Friends of Elk Rock Island and Spring Park group working in concert with the North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District. The neighborhood has spent thousands of dollars of neighborhood funds over the years to support these activities, which make the park a safe and inviting place for the community.
For many years, the Arnells have interfered with the neighborhood's program and the park. They have planted and maintained invasive species in the park and have blocked access to parts of the park with signs and physical barriers. They have removed signs intended to notify visitors that certain parts of the park are open to visitors. The city has been made aware of all these encroachments.
To protect the neighborhood's program for maintaining and beautifying the park and to keep the park a safe and accessible place to visit, the neighborhood asked Mr. Denham to gather information about the Arnells' actions and to present that information to the City Council in the summer of 2018. It was Mr. Denham's activities at the request of, and on the behalf of the neighborhood — Mr. Denham's photographing the damage the Arnells had caused to park property and equipment and the barriers the Arnells had placed — that Mrs. Arnell used to support the stalking order that the Clackamas County Circuit Court found to be an abuse of the legal process.
The city permits neighborhoods to spend their funds for, among other reasons, services that "sustain or enhance the health, public safety and welfare of the neighborhood." The city adopted this standard for neighborhood spending more than 20 years ago when I was mayor, and we allocated these funds to the Neighborhood District Associations.
The city's guidelines for the use of neighborhood funds do not define the "health," public safety," or "welfare" the services must sustain or enhance. Instead the city's guidelines provide examples of activities the terms are intended to cover. Under the law, when a standard of permissible uses describes the permissible uses through a list of examples, permissible uses include the uses on the list and any uses that are similar to the uses on that list.
According to the city's examples of permissible uses of neighborhood money, a neighborhood may spend money for services that sustain or enhance a "crime watch."
The activity Mr. Denham undertook was the same kind of looking-for-law violations that other neighbors take in an effort to stop damage to the park and people visiting the park. The activity Mr. Denham undertook for the neighborhood was watching for — in fact recording — potentially criminal activity. Intentionally damaging another's property is a crime under Oregon law. If Mr. Denham had not obtained the services of an attorney to protect himself from the stalking order, then any neighbor, and therefore the neighborhood, would have been unable to stop the Arnells from damaging the park.
The appropriateness of the payment as sustaining a crime watch is reinforced if one considers what happened to Mr. Denham in the context of a more traditional crime-watch activity. Suppose Mr. Denham, as part of a neighborhood crime watch, had been walking a neighborhood street watching for criminal activity, and in that role, Mr. Denham photographed a neighbor stealing a parcel off another neighbor's porch. Suppose the thief obtained a stalking order preventing Mr. Denham from going on the thief's street. Unless Mr. Denham obtained the services of an attorney to protect himself from the stalking order, any neighbor who tried to obtain evidence of the neighbor's crimes could be subject to a stalking order and kept off the public street. Under those circumstances, the crime watch could not be sustained. In the case of the porch thief, the neighborhood's paying for Mr. Denham's legal services would be necessary to keep the crime watch going effectively — just as the neighborhood's paying for Mr. Denham's legal services was necessary to enable the neighborhood to keep watch over a park thief.
In addition, according to the city's examples of permissible uses of neighborhood money, a neighborhood may spend money for services that sustain or enhance a "community property maintenance program" as well as "beautification program."
The activity Mr. Denham undertook was a continuation of the same park maintenance and beautification program the neighborhood has been undertaking for decades. The activities Mr. Denham undertook were intended to help the neighborhood maintain the park that their extraordinary labors had improved. Paying Mr. Denham's fees, therefore, sustained the neighborhood's program to maintain the community's property.
If Mr. Denham had not obtained the services of an attorney to protect himself from the stalking order, then any neighbor who tried to stop the Arnells from placing invasive species and barriers in the park could have been subject to a stalking order. The neighborhood would find itself unable to sustain the work of thousands of neighbors' hours.
Milwaukie resident Carolyn Tomei is a former state representative and mayor.