Neighborhood leaders worry, even resign, over dropped insurance
Neighborhood activists are upset and at least one has resigned as association president after the sudden loss of their liability insurance.
The hundreds of citizen volunteers who hold positions within the city's 95 neighborhood associations had previously been protected by the insurance plans of their neighborhood coalition offices.
'That was a very rare deal we were able to put together to combine all those,' said Jeff Lang, a former chairman of the Corbett/Terwilliger/Lair Hill Neighborhood Association. 'Normally, nonprofit groups have to buy them all separately. It was like a gift from heaven.'
The perk disappeared when a new insurance underwriter for several reasons refused to extend the plans to the neighborhood associations starting July 1. They're requiring that each association purchase its own plan, at a cost of $550 to $1,500 each a year.
City officials say they're working to find a less costly option, which may be to have the neighborhood associations covered under a federal volunteer protection act.
'It will provide for a high level of coverage,' said Brent Canode, policy adviser to city Commissioner Randy Leonard. 'We're going to make a strong legal case that they should be covered under that act.' In the meantime, activists are stewing over the issue.
'If you don't have any kind of insurance like this, there's no point in volunteering for these positions,' said Konrad Daae, former president of the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association. 'It's the least they can do for all the hundreds of hours people put in planting trees and running things for the community.'
Those who are affected are everyone from neighborhood association board members to presidents to the heads of transportation and land-use planning committees. Many found out this week when a neighborhood activist fired off an angry e-mail to several neighborhood associations.
The insurance protects such neighborhood activists from personal liability if, for example, someone trips and falls at a neighborhood-sponsored block party, or if they are named in a frivolous lawsuit.
Those in the insurance industry say the loss is unfortunate. 'We've been working on this four months, and it's a real problem,' said Lang, now owner of Gales Creek Insurance Services Inc., the Portland-based insurance provider for the East Portland Neighborhood Office.
City officials say the insurance rates skyrocketed after Sept. 11, 2001, as companies became more conservative. Lang adds that the consolidation of national insurance carriers contributed to the steep rate increases. 'Maybe a few years ago, there were 40 or 50 companies to bid on a project like this, and today there are just very few.'
Kent Hoddick, Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association president for the past eight years, was so upset over the issue that he resigned Tuesday.
'I've been around long enough to know how to get a lot of the things accomplished, who to talk to and who the contacts are, and when you should fight and when it's useless,' he said. 'I really hated to say I can't do this. At least until they get insurance coverage, and then I'll reconsider.'
Although city officials say there's a slim chance of being sued as a neighborhood activist, Hoddick knows that his predecessor was sued and doesn't want it happening to him.
The lawsuit was filed by another neighborhood association a decade ago against Daae and eventually was dropped. Daae said the attorney fees came close to $60,000 which was picked up by the neighborhood coalition's insurance plan.