City Code 3.96
Are you hearing a lot about the “code change” and wondering, “What code?” “What changes?” “Wait, uh, how did the neighborhood system even get started?” We can help with a few resources!
If you are looking for some context as to where the neighborhood network came from, the League of Women Voters offers an independent survey of the history in their “Neighborhood Associations Part I: History” (Oct 2005).
If you are looking for an honest assessment of the Neighborhood Association network’s successes and flaws, which always includes an assessment of diversity, the League of Women Voters wrote such a thing in 2006: "Neighborhood Associations Part II: How Portland's Neighborhood Program Works Today"
Real action was taken by Mayor Potter's Office, to increase diversity in community involvement, when they implemented the “Community Connect” Plan. This plan specifically addresses diversity in civic affairs, find an easy to digest 4 page summary of it here. As a result of this action plan, a number of programs were brought into the neighborhood/community involvement system (and given staff support and funding) to increase civic engagement opportunities for Portlanders that are often underrepresented. The range of organizations includes: Momentum Alliance, Latino Network, Urban League, Native American Youth and Family Center, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, Unite Oregon (formerly Center for Intercultural Organizing).
And if the Office of Community and Civic Life does its job well, that list should get longer by the day.
In 2016, the Auditor's Office produced a pretty pointed assessment of the city’s neighborhood network, and its progress increasing diversity through the Community Connect Plan. They found good progress, but that of course more diversity is important. Their main criticism was that 1) the Community Connect Plan had not been fully funded or implemented by City staffers, and that 2) each of today's participating groups are not held to the same high standards for transparency, inclusivity, and accountability as Neighborhood Associations. The report asserts that the code should be updated to include categories that match the new kinds of organizations now participating, and it asserts that this code should set clear standards of inclusivity, transparency, and accountability for these new categories. Read the Auditor's 2016 report here.
Now let’s talk about the code itself...
The current code defines the Neighborhood Association system, which was grassroots before, and sets clear standards for open meetings, transparency, accountability, and inclusivity. These are all principals of good government that this community really values. The code does not limit the neighborhood/community involvement system to just the category of "neighborhood associations," and it clearly states this.
However, it does not define any other categories, nor does it set transparent standards for official recognition for groups like those listed above, which are already participating in the system. This is a problem. Official recognition does mean something in our society, and the code should be updated both to offer status but also to establish operating procedure standards that match our community's values (values like... inclusivity, transparency, accountability).
The new code proposal as of July 2019, eliminates the definition/category of Neighborhood Associations. The new code will no longer define any category, and it deletes all of the standards that were set to help define participation. This new code eliminates all requirements for transparency, inclusivity, and accountability for all groups. The path to recognition and participation in the system is no longer clear and measurable, it is subjective, and admittance is controlled not by the code, but by the personal discretion of one person, the director of the Office of Community and Civic Life.
Current code (revised in 2005):
New code proposal (in 2019):
What is MTNA's position?
MTNA supports any measure that will increase the say people have in their local government. More people. More say. Yay!
The neighborhood network was a grassroots movement by people wanting more direct influence in their government. Our local government seems to have a love/tolerate/hate relationship with that involvement. The current “code edit” comes out of a local government that waxes and wanes in its support of this asset/thorn-in-its-side. And the edit eliminates practices of good government -- transparency, accountability, open meetings, clear records -- which sure seems like the opposite path any of us should want.
As MTNA drafts letters of support/opposition, suggested edits, etc. for this code change discussion, we will post them here:
July 18, 2019 letter to Code 3.96 Committee: Staff for this committee didn't set-up any of the usual tools that would facilitate the public providing input to the committee -- there was no email address or online form designated to accept and file comments into the record. This likely means input from the community like that provided in our letter, was not seen by the Committee nor did it go into the official record. Public testimony at the Committee's final meeting was restricted to only 10 minutes (10 people were granted permission to speak for 1 minute each). Here is the letter MTNA wrote to the Committee, with no way to deliver. We tried to submit this letter via the paid staff assigned to the committee, but as we never heard any confirmation that this was received or that it was being passed along to the Committee, we doubt it was read.