September 21, 2021

 

From the 2020-2021 LNA Board to our membership, neighbors, and supporters: 

 

Over the last few years, many folks who have served on the board have tried to create changes that would make the LNA more equitable, more focused on community issues instead of personal conflicts, and more safe for those who are the most marginalized. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, and after putting in place systems to create a safer space and exhausting every avenue to get support from the City, the current board has concluded that the changes we desperately need aren’t possible because what we’re up against are systemic issues. As long as the City isn’t changing the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) Standards that govern us and haven’t been revised since 2005 and as long as the City isn’t willing to set boundaries with folks who weaponize the neighborhood association system to cause harm to their neighbors, the volunteers on the ground are limited in the changes we can make, and they are also left vulnerable, as the city offers many expectations but no protections for their volunteers whom it expects to carry out its tasks. 

As such, the recommendation of the current LNA board is for dissolution of the organization. Once the City can commit to offering protections to volunteers (and to their staff responsible for offering support to volunteers) through adequate changes to City code and ONI standards, community members can re-start their neighborhood association. A motion was made to this effect at the general membership meeting on August 24, 2021. At the time, the membership in attendance voted against this proposal. 

Since the LNA is a participatory organization, we recognize based on the August 2021 General Membership Meeting vote that certain LNA General Community Members want to continue the organization as it is now. On that account, we are listening to the general public and will leave it up to the membership and the community for how they want to carry this organization forward. 

While the current Board is resigning, we have secured the commitment from the Office of Community & Civic Life and East Portland Community Office (EPCO), our District Coalition, that they will fully support an election for a new board. They have committed to working with community members who would like to continue this organization. 

According to our Bylaws, Tuesday, September 28 is when our election should take place. We defer all inquiries about the future of the LNA and elections to EPCO. We recommend checking their website for updates: https://www.eastportland.org/lents.

Meanwhile, we are sharing what we think is important for community members to know about the LNA and our recommendations for ONI Standard changes to make volunteer involvement safer and more equitable. 

Here are the factors that the current board considered prior to reaching the conclusion of dissolution being necessary:

  • Active harm is being done to individuals via the Lents Neighborhood Association organization  
    • The organization is a vehicle for targeted and ongoing harassment and abuse to serving officers and the community at large
    • Freedom of speech is prioritized above other people’s freedom to participate in civic engagement safely due to retaliatory and threatening behaviors 
    • The grievance process can be weaponized by individual community members with the goal of impeding operations and getting board members to resign 
    • Feedback that low interest from the community in participating is due to the contentious nature of the meetings 
  • Inadequate City support to maintain a volunteer-based organization that purportedly provides community engagement services to the City – no concrete evidence of strategy or plans for immediate support of neighborhood associations by making changes that were identified as needed since the process of revising Code 3.196 first started in 2017
    • No board training provided by City despite expectations to continue organization through pandemic
    • No City protections for volunteers against intimidation, threats, or harassment
    • Minimal insurance protection and limited support from City for legal resources
  • Lents Neighborhood Association cannot adequately represent the entire Lents community alone; this organization should not be expected to be the only conduit to community engagement due to the large population of Lents (20,000+ residents)
  • There are other less harmful ways for Lents residents to engage with the City. Other avenues for civic engagement and civic engagement opportunities include:
    • City Bureau Open Houses (virtual & live) and newsletters
    • Commissioner Open Houses (virtual & live)
    • Other local organizations are options for civic engagement

Here’s what we think community members should know or be aware of if they choose to run for a board position:

  • Board Service is a commitment of significant time and energy
    • Serving on the LNA Board requires multiple hours of work per week for communications, organization, additional community meetings, etc. from multiple Board Members 
    • Specialized skills and access to technology are needed for required tasks: webmaster, graphic design, Google docs, newsletter, Zoom, publicity, press releases, meeting facilitation, public speaking, social media management, note taking, financial acumen, etc.. It is ideal if Board Members have these abilities, or funding may be required to outsource these tasks 
  • Board Members may receive harassing, threatening, or abusive messages for your participation on the LNA Board. These communications may be delivered in person, via social media, texts, emails, third parties, etc.
  • You may have your livelihood threatened by neighbors and/or other retaliation may occur based on your involvement in the LNA (e.g. neighbors may submit allegations or reports against your professional licenses and/or to your employer; you may be reported to city bureaus by neighbors and subjected to investigation; you may be harassed walking on the street in the neighborhood, etc. — these are all things that current and former members have experienced over periods of years)
  • Your work and participation will be scrutinized; some community members come to meetings with malicious intent to try to make the case for Standards or bylaw violations and to submit grievances and threats of lawsuits
    • You may be subject to frivolous lawsuits based on your work on the LNA Board, and the City of Portland does not provide legal support to volunteers  

Here are our recommendations to EPCO and Civic Life for how to make civic involvement safer for community members and city staff:

  • Create a policy for not tolerating sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, or xenophobic behaviors in NA meetings and activities — and a process for how it will be enforced
  • Create a process for removing people with a pattern of obstructing the process of conducting neighborhood association business
  • Make de-escalation and diversity-equity-inclusion trainings mandatory for volunteers 
  • Offer free mediation services — or, until the city has this offering in place, agree to reimburse community members who contract such services from a list of pre-approved providers (this will provide an opportunity for folks to turn to mediation providers who offer culturally specific services)
  • Help NA volunteers measure outcomes, not in a punitive but a collaborative way, to ensure they stay on track with their goals. We need SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound) goals that measure community engagement and learning adequately (i.e. “how many people go to a meeting” is not an outcome)
  • Dedicated city support to Neighborhood Associations for major change management and organizational transformations (bylaws, elections, etc.)
  • Provide Board Members training on how to perform effectively in their roles 
  • Clear insurance policies for both organization and board of directors; understanding and explanation of these policies should be provided during board training 
  • Clear boundaries and engagement requirements for Neighborhood Associations
    • Do NOT force volunteers to consistently engage with their harassers/abusers
    • Allow for disengagement when all other avenues of resolution have failed
      • Clear pathway and support for conflict management should be provided beyond the procedural grievance process
    • A means to stop individuals from harassing and intimidating others should be in place (Precedence, for example: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/omf/article/559531)

Despite the hurdles and challenges, we are excited to share the successes of Lents Neighborhood Association from the past few years through commitment and effort of our volunteers:

  • Civic Engagement Opportunities
    • City Election Candidate Forums (including Mayoral)
    • Monthly open forums with elected officials, government organizations, city bureaus, local organizations, and more 
    • Supporting the successful launch of Portland Street Response in Lents
  • Community Clean-up Events
    • Dumpster Clean-up
    • I-205 Multi-Use Path Clean-up & Outreach Fair
    • Clean-up partnership between housed and unhoused neighbors
    • Litter & Graffiti Clean-ups
  • Sponsored Community Activities & Community Events
    • Community Clothing Closet
    • Lents Bike Tour
    • Lents Garage Sale
    • Lents Fair
    • Lents Pet Parade

 

For additional events and projects, see the LNA website: https://www.lentsneighborhoodassociation.com/portfolio/events-projects/

We would like to thank the people at EPCO, Civic Life and Commissioner Hardesty’s office for their collaboration and presence over the years. We recognize their good intentions, hard work, and passion as people who are also a part of the communities that they’re trying to help and they, too, deserve a work environment free of toxicity and retaliation by community members. 

Thank you also to our membership, followers, and supporters for your involvement with the Lents Neighborhood Association over the years. Whether you’ve served on the board for a little while or a long while, whether you’ve attended one meeting or every meeting, or whether you’ve engaged otherwise, your presence has made an impact and we thank you for your service. 

We hope the Office of Community & Civic Life can use this feedback to develop and provide better protections for volunteers and City staff in order to continue everyone’s good work in our East Portland neighborhoods.