WHAT IS HAPPENING? The Office of Community and Civic Life is continuing to seek feedback on the controversial reforms to Portland's civic engagement process.
The office is hosting an online survey on its website while its staff finishes drafting the changes to the city code, which then will be submitted to the City Council for approval.
The date of the council hearing on the proposal has not yet been finalized. Public testimony will be taken when it is scheduled.
WHAT IS THE CONTROVERSY? The council has directed the office to reform Section 3.96 of the code, which sets forth the official civic engagement process. It currently only identifies a limited number of organizations, including neighborhood associations.
The council has said that it wants to broaden those officially recognized as involved in civic affairs to include organizations that are not geographically based, but which represent ethnic, racial and religious communities, among others.
The controversy arises because a citizen committee advising the office on the reforms has recommended striking all references to the neighborhood system from Section 3.96. This includes all references to the 95 official neighborhood associations that have existed and been granted formal roles in land-use matters for decades.
WHAT DOES THE COMMITTEE SAY? At its final meeting on July 18, the committee tried to assure the associations that the reforms will not completely alter their official role in the city.
The recommendations it approved at that meeting include the following statement of intent:
"To preserve the privileges currently cross-referenced in other sections of city code for groups currently recognized by the bureau (including but not limited to neighborhood associations, district coalitions, business district associations, and diverse and civic leadership partners)."
Neighborhood activists are not satisfied such language will preserve the roles of the associations in the future. For example, the city now provides insurance for public events they organize, and it is unclear if that will continue. The same is true for annual funding of the district coalitions which support them.
WHAT CAN I DO? You can learn more about the proposed reforms and take the survey at the office's website at http://www.portlandoregon.gov/civic/77951. You also can sign up for email updates on the project there.
You also can testify at the council hearing on the reforms when it is scheduled. In the meantime, you can find contact information for all council members on the front page of the city's website, http://www.portlandoregon.gov.
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