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Could citizen involvement organizations link city hall and neighbors?

Committee seeks approval for first-ever citizen involvement organizations

Portland has one. So does Tigard, Lake Oswego, West Linn, Milwaukie, Gresham, Eugene and Salem. Now, Tualatin is one council meeting and a majority vote away from having a citizen involvement organization of its own.

Tualatin has never had a neighborhood association, as they are called in most cities. After almost five months of working with an ad-hoc committee devoted to the establishment of the organization, the Tualatin City Council will conduct a final vote on Aug. 22, to decide whether or not to approve the citizen involvement organizations and their boundary maps.

Jan Giunta, a Tualatin resident for 22 years and the driving force behind the ad-hoc committee, said she hopes that the CIO will fill the communication gap between Tualatin's local government and the common citizen.

'There's linkage between the city council and the advisory committee, and that's fine, but there's no linkage between the advisory committee and the citizens,' Giunta said. 'The CIO provides that key link between the average citizen and the city government which, until now, hasn't existed.'

The movement in Tualatin began a few years ago when there were multiple land-use disputes between the city and its residents.

'There were five major blowups over land use, and the council just honestly wasn't prepared for the backlash from the citizens,' Giunta said. 'There was a small group of us citizens who certainly carried our pitchforks and fought against what we were not in favor of, but we realized that was no way to run the governance of the city.'

Giunta and others met with members of the Tualatin City Council and asked why they would vote for such things as a proposed bridge over Tualatin Community Park, when the citizens were so vehemently opposed to the idea. The council said they were simply unaware that the citizens felt this way.

'I immediately realized that their vote wasn't the problem. The problem was there was no linkage between the neighborhoods and the city council,' Giunta said.

It was then that Giunta and various other citizens decided to band together and seek approval from the council to form the ad-hoc committee. After almost a year of drafting bylaws, boundary maps and sample codes for the city charter, the committee took their work and presented it to the Council in April. The Council and the committee have been working since then to review and refine the code text.

'It's been a very large, team effort from many citizens,' said Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden. 'The implementation will be an even more engaging and comprehensive effort, and there is a bevy of very capable and motivated folks poised and primed to undertake this very significant endeavor.

'The city stands ready and excited to assist and support their efforts.'

The ad-hoc committee has submitted a boundary map to the council, which divides the entire city into six residential jurisdictions and two commercial and industrial jurisdictions.

Tualatin is one of few cities to separate their residential CIOs from their city's commercial and industrial entities, Giunta said.

'The reason we did this was to give the average citizen a greater voice,' she said. 'Invariably, we've found that citizens lose when they're pitted against a big company. The big company just has a louder voice. Their self interests are primarily economically driven, whereas in the residential area, their self interest is livability and home values.

'Rather than pitting them against each other in the same CIO, we separated them so they can each advocate their own self interests.'

However, Tualatin Chamber of Commerce CEO Linda Moholt said local businesses have some reservations about having separate involvement organizations.

'Most businesses would like to be a part of their neighborhood instead of having a separate group for commercial or industrial,' Moholt said. 'The Chamber already covers those areas and the businesses would like to work together with their neighbors to understand their needs better.'