City to hire new staff for Southwest neighborhood groups
"Change is never easy," Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty reiterated Wednesday, March 10. Hardesty's comments came right before the City Council voted 4-1 to hire two new city staffers in the Office of Community and Civic Life to provide services to Southwest Portland's 17 neighborhood associations.
The neighborhood associations were previously served by a district coalition — Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. — but Hardesty announced two weeks prior that the coalition would no longer receive any city grant funds and she would move to have neighborhood groups serviced directly by the city instead of the independent nonprofit group.
Funding that previously went to the coalition will be used to pay for the new hires.
Commissioner Mingus Mapps was the lone dissenting vote Wednesday. Mapps wanted to table the council's vote a week, citing an ongoing audit of the Civic Life office that the city was likely to see the results of soon.
"Before City Council votes to expand the Office of Civic Life, I think it would be prudent of us to see this audit," Mapps said. "I believe there are reasons to be concerned about the content of the audit."
Mapps cited a recent OPB story highlighting a divisive, disjointed work environment within the Civic Life office.
"Let me just say that one has nothing to do with the other," Hardesty said. "What we're asking you to do today is to assist us in providing some basic level of support for community members and southwest neighborhoods."
Hardesty said the audit under way will examine the entire bureau, whereas the request before council was to hire two staffers specifically to serve southwest neighborhood groups previous served by Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. (SWNI).
She reminded the council that neighborhood groups have gone without a fully-funded fiscal sponsor or any city support since funding for SWNI was withheld by the prior council last year. Hardesty urged the council not to delay any longer.
"It does not serve the neighbors of Southwest Portland now for me to just not take action," she said. "This was a situation that I inherited … and I'm asking you to vote on my solution to the situation that I inherited. We will know nothing more about what my plans are to fundamentally transform Civic Life five days from now or 10 days from now. That audit is one piece."
The commissioner said she intends to reach out to current and former Civic Life staff, as well as neighborhood groups and residents.
The night before the council's vote, Hardesty hosted an open house for neighborhood groups with more than 300 people. The event was billed as the largest Zoom meeting the city had ever hosted.
Mayor Ted Wheeler called Hardesty's proposal to hire new staffers "a good faith solution," but also called it "a stopgap measure."
"There is clearly a problem, the way that the city has been interacting with neighborhood coalitions and our neighborhood organizations," Wheeler said. "All of us agree that it is time for a reset. "All of us agree that there needs to be an improved and a healthier path going forward … and I think all of us agree that it's not necessarily going to be a top-down solution. We need to hear from the neighborhoods about what they need from us, as the City Council, in order for their neighborhoods to thrive."
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