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WL councilors debate how much oversight the City should have over NA grant spending

PMG FILE PHOTO - The West Linn City Council decided on new policies for neighborhood association grant spending. On July 1, $10,500 from general funds of the City of West Linn was disbursed to neighborhood associations (NAs), raising the total bank account balance for all 11 West Linn NAs to just under $70,000.

At a meeting, Aug. 5, the West Linn City Council updated policies governing those funds in hopes of improving accountability for how they are spent.

That said, some councilors felt the proposed amendments were overbearing on the part of the council and suggested softer language.

Karie Oakes, the vice chair of the Neighborhood Association Presidents (NAP), told council the NAP did not want to include a proposed amendment to the policy which stated, "If the City is concerned that the balance is too large, it can bring its concerns to the NAP and the City may limit further balance growth, taking into account recommendations from the NAP. The NAs are not encouraged to carry a balance, but one reason to do so is to be able to plan for larger projects in the future."

Oakes felt this language was unnecessary because NAs submit a yearly report to the City in which they detail how they spent their allocated funds for the year and how they plan to spend future funds.

In the end, the council heeded Oakes' suggestion despite disapproval from Councilor Jules Walters.

"It's important when we're talking about taxpayers' dollars to have oversight about how that money is spent," Walters said.

The newly adopted NA grant policy also includes language that spells out what percentage of the total NA funds each group shall be allocated based on population.

Based on these numbers, the Willamette NA, which according to the City makes up 24% of West Linn's population, receives 13.4% of the City's total NA grant funds. Smaller NAs like Barrington Heights, Skyline Ridge, Parker Crest and Marylhurst each receive 7.4% of the funds. Sunset, Savanna Oaks and Rosemont Summit receive 9%, while Bolton, Hidden Springs and Robinwood each receive 10%.

At a meeting on NA grant policy July 15, City Manager Eileen Stein expressed concern that to receive these funds each NA must hold at least one meeting per year (at which, according to Oregon Public Meeting Law, a quorum of voters must be present) and about the variance in the definition of quorum for each NA.

"If funding decisions are attached to what is active and what isn't an active neighborhood association and that's tied to different definitions of quorum, you might have one neighborhood association that's receiving an allocation based on 10 people coming out and another one based on two and a half people coming out," Stein said.

Stein and the council realized at this meeting that the Willamette NA received the largest portion of funds despite meeting with a quorum of only five people (though the Willamette NA president said that their meeting attendance is typically greater than five).

"(Still), five people entitles one neighborhood association to the largest share of funding from the City?" Stein questioned.

At the July 15 meeting City Attorney Tim Ramis said he would look into a way for fairly standardizing quorums for NAs.

The council also engaged in a long debate during the Aug. 5 meeting over the use of "should" or "shall" in a sentence which the NAP proposed to read, "NA grant spending should be approved by the membership."

Mayor Russ Axelrod proposed replacing "should" with "shall" because he felt it would more strongly necessitate that spending be approved by the entire NA membership.

The NAP preferred the word "should" because they felt it would leave room for NA officers to make small expenditures without approval from the rest of the association.

According to some NA bylaws, anyone who resides or owns a business within the neighborhood boundary and is of voting age is automatically a member.

Other NAs require voting-age residents and business owners to sign in at a meeting or notify an officer that they would like to become a member.

Councilor Teri Cummings agreed with the NAP, saying that "shall" seemed overbearing and could be perceived as superseding the NAs' bylaws (each NA has its own bylaws, which along with the City's municipal code, govern how NAs operate).

In the end, council approved the policy with the word "should," with a lone voice of disapproval from Walters who felt that word, and the document as a whole, left something for the council to desire, wanting more oversight for the spending of grants, which ultimately come from taxpayers.


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