As West Linn City Hall considers updates to the neighborhood association ordinance, there is debate over what the city is trying to accomplish.
Opponents call it 'permanently dissolving citizen input in West Linn through its proposed neighborhood association changes.' City Council says it's to 'promote trust and open communication between our citizens and their city government.'
I believe it is the latter.
I considered offering an exacting examination of proposed NA changes, but personal reflection might better illustrate what has happened over the last few years. It's time to tell my story.
While serving as vice president of the Tanner Basin Neighborhood Association, I worked with members to tackle issues such as proposed large-scale developments, traffic issues and nature conservancy. I did not agree with a number of the decisions the current city council had made and quickly aligned myself with like-minded people. My altruism, or naiveté, led me to believe we were fighting the good fight.
After becoming NA president, I worked with others in the community like the League of West Linn Neighborhoods, Neighbors for a Livable West Linn and the Hidden Springs Neighborhood Association. But a funny thing happened on the way to city hall. Things started becoming suspect.
My first sign was at an informal meeting of people discussing Wilderness Park, council elections, etc., and how various groups should take a coordinated approach. I brought up the Pascagoula effort and made some suggestions on how to get involved.
I was then told that 'we' should not get involved or contribute because it would only serve to make Councilor Gates look good in the next election. I replied that denying aid to Hurricane Katrina victims because it may affect public opinion of a councilor was, well, heartless.
And so it began.
What followed was nothing short of insanity. If the city suggested it, they were against it.
A small vocal group of residents were constantly demanding action on their behalf for every little thing so they could potentially find the city at fault. It was 'gotcha' politics at its worst. At one point, weeks were spent trading e-mails and phone calls with the city over a temporary sign on a commercial lot. After trying to be diplomatic, I finally responded to the resident, 'The membership asked its officers to follow up and we are doing that. But on a personal note, this is a petty, nitpicking waste of everyone's time and I'm embarrassed that I have to be a part of it.'
My days as a NA officer were numbered. I was tired of being bullied into wasting valuable staff time; tired of hearing people demand the city 'do something about this!' on trivial matters; tired of those calling for transparency in government constantly advising me to 'keep this close to your chest' if it was their secret plans; tired of how rudely many guest speakers were treated, and tired of watching new attendees being shouted down when offering a differing viewpoint.
But maybe most of all, I was tired of the anger. It was toxic and I no longer wanted to be a party to it. These people didn't care about West Linn; they only cared about themselves.
I haven't shared my story until now. Despite that, most people knew.
Bored and tired. That is the only legacy this subversive group can claim for our citizens.
Valerie Baker is a resident of West Linn.