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Neighborhoods get their say at city council

If you listen to residents from various areas of West Linn, they'll tell you there's a lot wrong with the city's proposal to alter neighborhood associations.

If you listen to elected city leaders, they'll tell you a few items could stand adjustment, but overall the concept is noteworthy.

Monday night at city hall the banter went back and forth - not in debate style, but in a series of testimonies from city residents and responses from members of the city council.

An impartial professional facilitator supervised the affair.

And nearly all of the two-hour meeting was devoted to residents stating their views contrary to the city's proposal to change the way neighborhood associations are organized, funded and operate.

The council sat and listened to residents' complaints except during the 15 minutes of their responses to residents' statements.

Residents' complaints were in regard to myriad topics.

Here are several examples:

NAs do not have an identified purpose.

Criteria should be established to grant funding. The proposal punishes 'rogue' NAs.

A requirement to write grants for funding would discourage NAs.

Some residents say the city doesn't listen to them and it's a waste of time going to meetings.

The city only cares about land-use issues.

NAs should be structured and their votes should be advisory only.

A proposal for electronic voting is not secure.

Proposed quorum provisions are inequitable.

The changes are to 'silence critics of development.'

Only a few of the more than three dozen in attendance spoke in favor of parts of the proposal.

The city's stated purpose of the changes is to increase participation in city and neighborhood affairs by local residents. But a number of the speakers at the forum said that more regulations would decrease participation. Several suggested keeping the rules governing NAs simple.

Dean Suhr, acting president of the Rosemont Summit NA, agreed that a few meetings should be structured, but that most NA meetings could be more informal. But he emphasized that a regular forum between NA presidents and the council would be a good idea.

Kevin Bryck, president of the Robinwood NA, said he hears from the residents of his NA that 'the city doesn't listen to us; it doesn't make any difference, so why waste my time.'

Talking about what he called the 'broken public planning process,' he said he was disappointed that after a development application is submitted to the city, the first chance residents have to suggest how the project would best fit into their neighborhood is after the project has been designed.

The only chance they have, he said, is when they go against city staff recommendations at the planning commission. Which, he says, is too late.

Chuck Lytle, a member of the Hidden Springs NA, chided those who complain but don't participate in NA activities enough to make them better.

'We have pled to get people at our meetings,' he said. 'You cannot believe what we have done and spent of the city's good money, and post cards and everything. And still, the same people show up. This is a democracy, folks; it's messy, and it takes work. You have to show up to participate.'

Tom Miller, another member of the Hidden Springs NA, said he feels like he has no ability to influence the Hidden Springs NA.

'My rights to have a say in Hidden Springs are abdicated … ,' he said. 'I have never come to a meeting; I wouldn't waste my time at a meeting. These things are stacked, and this group (HSNA officers) has shanghaied our neighborhood association.'

Miller said he believes that the city doesn't need NAs, but if the council believes they are needed they should be structured to distribute leadership, ensure open elections and make NA votes only advisory to the city.

In response to Miller, Bob Thomas, a resident of the Hidden Springs NA, suggested that NAs need to be independent bodies to satisfy State Goal No. 1 for citizen involvement.

'This thing that Tom Miller said about the Hidden Springs Neighborhood Association being shanghaied,' Thomas said, 'is absolute baloney.'

Alma Coston of the Bolton NA said the NAs are not broken and don't need fixing. Communication, she told the council, is a two-way street.

If anything changes, she said, more money should be allocated for NA activities and NA leaders should be encouraged to stay in leadership positions as long as they desire.

Lynn Fox, president of the Hidden Springs NA, listed eight proposals, including waiting six months to hear more feedback, have an ombudsman or a county mediator arbitrate between the city and NAs, council use a professional facilitator to meet with NA officers each year, provide training for new NA officers and more information should pass between the city and the NAs to keep everyone informed.

Valerie Baker, a resident of the Tanner Basin NA, said that only a small group of people are reaching decisions that affect the entire NA, and she suggested using electronic media to reach a broader public.

'The NA officers can, indeed, provide representation,' she said, 'but without input from the broader membership this representation is often misguided.

'Moreover, the purpose of the NAs is to provide feedback to the city on what the neighborhood values and desires. Currently NA decisions are being made by a very small group of people.'

Ken Pryor, vice president of the Tanner Basin NA, said the NA had voted recently to oppose changes to the NA ordinance, especially what he called an 'inequitable quorum,' as well as the proposed competition for funding grants and the idea of using electronic media that is not a part of everyone's daily life.

'I think people found this proposal devoid of any positive contribution to enhancing participation in the neighborhood association,' Pryor said. 'It's very restrictive and confining.'

Councilors listened, and then responded by thanking everyone for their ideas and correcting a few statements.

Councilor Mike Gates agreed that the purpose of NAs needs to be more clearly defined, but said issues affecting the entire city should require a quorum.

He also agreed with some residents, describing the city's Web site as 'abysmal,' and suggesting that someone within each neighborhood could help the city by providing information.

Mayor Norm King suggested that if NAs want better service from the city's Web site, someone from each NA should take a leadership role in providing information on NA activities.

Councilors Jody Carson and Michele Eberle asked for some positive suggestions about how to make the NAs better.

'I heard a lot tonight of what's wrong with (proposed ordinance changes),' Eberle said, 'but I'm more interested in those items that aren't here that you think would really make the process better or the neighborhood associations better.'

The council is still taking written suggestions for improvements of neighborhood associations. King said the council would consider revising the proposed ordinance in about a month.

Up next

CITY

PROPOSAL: The city council has not scheduled a vote for the proposed changes to neighborhood associations. But it will consider revising the proposal in about a month.