Code reform could eliminate references to all groups

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The City Council will be asked to create a work group that could recommend not naming any organizations in the public engagement section

An early community meeting on the proposed code reform. (City of Portland/Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Despite the promise of involving many more Portlanders in city affairs, the controversial proposed civic engagement reforms would only initially recognize six new community-based organizations.

That compares to nearly 150 existing neighborhood-based organizations that would continue to be officially recognized by the City Council, which is now scheduled to consider the proposal on Nov. 14.

The discrepancy could completely disappear, however, if the council ultimately agrees to eliminate references to any specific organization from Chapter 3.96 of the City Code, which creates the Office of Community and Civic Life to oversee the public engagement process. The office — formerly known as the Office of Neighborhood Involvement — has been directed by the council to rewrite the chapter to better involve all residents in civic affairs.

The inital difference is so great because the office is planning to only ask the council to first recognize those community-based organization currently participating in its Diversity and Civic Leadership program. That program helps a limited number of organizations representing marginalized communities to train members to become more involved in civic affairs.

The current list includes: Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization; Latino Network; Momentum Alliance; Native American Youth and Family Center; Unite Oregon; and Urban League of Portland.

In contrast, the public engagement section of the code has long recognized the neighborhood-based organizations, which include 94 neighborhood association, seven district coalitions and 46 business district associations.

As part of its proposal, the office also will ask the council to approve a resolution creating a multi-bureau work group to make more comprehensive recommendations for how the city can modernize its approach to serve more Portlanders. That could lead to the elimination of any list of organizations served by the office. 

Organization still would be referenced in other code chapters.

“Adding funding or groups to this structure without defining its purpose and direction is not a responsible approach, which is what the code change aims to address by creating a unified framework under which all programs would operate,” said Winta Yohannes, an aide to Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the office.

There is no doubt that many non-governmental organizations in the city represent marginalized communities. In addition to some of those currently involved in the office program, more than a dozen others participated in the Aug. 14 anti-violence rally organized by Mayor Ted Wheeler before the most recent far-right protest. They ranged from the Coalition of Communities of Color to the Mental Health Association of Portland and Weird Portland United. Even more joined in too late to be formally acknowledged.  

The council directed the office to rewrite section 3.96 of the City Code to increase public participation in civic events. The council said Portland had changed since it was last reviewed, and many residents now consider themselves parts of communities that are not defined by geographic boundaries. Only recognizing neighborhood-based organizations is a barrier to people’s involvement in public affairs, the council said.

One difference is funding. The district coalition officers will receive $3.1 million in city funds this fiscal year, compared to just $900,000 for the community-based organizations.

The rewrite project became controversial when word began circulating about removing all references to neighborhood-based organizations from section 3.96 of the code. Many longtime association members worried that would diminish the organization’s well-established roles in city land use and other matters. They also wondered how it would affect the annual payments the city has made to support the district coalitions over the years and the insurance coverage the city provides for community events sponsored by the organizations.

Reform supporters responded that the neighborhood-based organizations would not be abolished, but would be recognized in an administrative rule along with new community-based organizations.

The list of organizations proposed to be officially recognized was first released on Friday, Aug. 30. A link to it was posted on the office’s website and included in an emailed newsletter from the office. Other links connect to the proposed rewrite of the public engagement provisions of the City Code and frequently asked questions about the project. The resolution has not yet been released.

Find out more about the project here.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

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