We and others have written extensively recently about how Portland's rather quaint system of governance, once just pleasantly quirky, is now really out of step with its citizens, and has become very unwieldy.
The "commission" form of city government elects all "City Commissioners" at large, and assigns aspects of the city's services to individual Commissioners to oversee – for a period of time. (These assignments are subject to change.) Since no Commissioner is assigned to represent any section of the city in particular, in practice the leadership of the city tends to live in or near downtown – and many run for office simply to pursue their own political agendas, rather than to keep the city running smoothly for everyone living in it. And, in Portland, there are only five Commissioners on the City Council, including the Mayor.
That setup alone is enough to explain much of the recent dysfunctionality of the City of Portland. But when City Bureaus are led by Commissioners with a political agenda – rather than expertise in, or even any interest in, the services provided by the Bureaus – things really go sideways.
We are not alone in calling for a full revamp and reset of the whole system of Portland City Government, and there are hints that some on the City Council actually feel the same way. Maybe this time around it will really happen.
But in the meantime, Portland does have one redeeming system of providing nonbinding citizen input from all parts of the city – its Neighborhood Association system. Everybody living in Portland lives in a recognized neighborhood, whether they realize it or not, and is represented by a Neighborhood Association, which has its own volunteer Board, and invites the involvement of everyone who lives in that neighborhood.
And May is a special month – that's the month when each of Portland's 95 recognized Neighborhood Associations are to hold their annual Board Elections.Last year was different – pandemic rules prohibited in-person meetings last May, and each association in Portland had to work out – with the help of the "Neighborhood Coalition" which ties each nonprofit Neighborhood Associations to the Portland City Council – how to hold an election with nobody present in person! During the COVID-19 pandemic, the associations met publicly online using ZOOM, and in the end the elections were eventually conducted that way too, but few were in May.This year's elections will mostly use ZOOM as well, since the pandemic is not yet over; but the systems to conduct them are now in place, and most will indeed happen at their May General Meetings.To start with, do you know what neighborhood you live in? And do you know what and where your Neighborhood Association is? Inner Southeast Portland's "Neighborhood Coalition" is "Southeast Uplift"; and, since all the Neighborhood Coalitions in the city have been overseen recently by a sequence of City Commissioners who have seemed somewhat averse to the whole idea of Neighborhood Associations, that information on the Southeast Uplift website is no longer prominently featured, but it is still there. Here is a link to that map, and the information on your own Neighborhood Association – tinyurl.com/ctt9tfaz
The map shows the boundaries of all the neighborhood associations south of I-84, north of the Clackamas County Line, and west of about S.E. 82nd Avenue of Roses. If you click on the name of each neighborhood, you will see a photograph Uplift has taken in it (most of them show park scenes but, strangely, Mt. Scott-Arleta is represented by a picture of somebody taking a shower). You will also find links to much information about your neighborhood, and its Association.
Although all Neighborhood Associations in Portland have bylaws that adhere to certain requirements of the city, there are differences, and some of those involve the terms served by members of the Board, and differences in how the Officers are elected.
In the case of SMILE, an acronym which stands for "Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League" – the oldest neighborhood association in the city, and serving possibly the most populated neighborhood in Southeast Portland; it's the Neighborhood Association for both Sellwood and Westmoreland – the Board has twelve members. Eight are at-large Board Members, serving two-year terms, with only four seats opening up for election each year, an overlap that assures some continuity on the Board from year to year. The four Officer positions are directly elected at the same election for one-year terms, and the President is limited to two consecutive one-year terms.
Other associations have different Board requirements; but one thing that all of them have in common is that all Board members are volunteers, and none are paid. If you want to get involved in your own neighborhood, consider seriously running for and serving on its Board. The details pertaining to your neighborhood can be found by clicking on your neighborhood's name on that map, at – tinyurl.com/ctt9tfaz
So, look into it. And don't delay, because some elections are quite early this month. (Woodstock's, Mt. Scott-Arleta's, and Reed's are also set for May 5; Brentwood-Darlington's is on May 6, and Foster-Powell's is on May 10.) Head over to that online map, click on your neighborhood, and find out more – tinyurl.com/ctt9tfaz
Oh, and what will happen to these Neighborhood Associations, if and when the City of Portland adopts a much more effective and representative form of city government? The Neighborhood Associations will still be needed to provide a vital means of localized communication with the city government; they are, in fact, what's primarily responsible for the "feel" of Portland as a series of "hometowns" rather than being just a one big clunky city.
But, if and when reform happens, that new city government might then be just a little more interested in whatever the neighborhoods have to say!
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