Neighborhood association's lack of election angers numerous residents

Palisades residents who came to last week's neighborhood association meeting expecting an election were in for a rude awakening.

Their hopes of electing new board members to the Palisades Neighborhood Association evaporated when board chair Paul Ostroff announced he had postponed the election.

Ostroff, in an interview this week, said he was compelled to postpone the election because of a full agenda and lack of background information about the candidates.

But others who were there said it was a thinly veiled attempt to assert power over the board, while undermining the democratic process.

'Who would have thought that a neighborhood association would pull a fraud like this?' said Bob Barman, one of the 17 residents hoping to be voted to the board that night. 'Government has to be clean. This is dirty. It's a soil on our community.'

Barman Tuesday requested that the city set another meeting to hold the election before June 28.

For those who wanted the election on June 6, surprise turned to anger as Ostroff canceled the idea.

In response, Barman and others who wanted the election quickly got on their cell phones and called neighbors for support.

Soon, more than 100 Palisades residents began streaming into the Rotunda Room at Lakeridge High School, demanding an explanation from Ostroff and the board, which Barman said they didn't receive to their satisfaction.

As more people streamed in, someone at the meeting called Lake Oswego police.

Ostroff said he did not know who called the police, but he agreed with the decision.

'They were highly disruptive,' he said, referring to the crowd. 'There was some conduct going on that was disquieting.'

While the opponents had strength in numbers and cited provisions of the association's by-laws, Ostroff held firm to his decision to postpone the election.

Ostroff said he wanted to delay the election until the July meeting, when there is more time on the agenda to present the candidates and their platforms.

Ostroff said he made it clear at the beginning of the June 6 meeting that he intended to postpone the annual election.

In a memo he sent to board members a day before the meeting, Ostroff said the agenda was full. The agenda included a discussion about the Ask Lake Oswegans ballot initiative and a presentation on the Lake Oswego Municipal Golf Course. The memo was also distributed to the public before the meeting, Ostroff said.

He also said the board's nominating committee failed to submit a list of candidates to the board at least two weeks before the election.

But Barman said the by-laws allow members to introduce walk-on candidates for an immediate election during a general meeting. Barman came to the meeting armed with more than 230 proxy votes to begin the process of replacing or filling some or all of the 17 board positions.

According to the association's by-laws, 'An opportunity shall be given for nominations from the floor,' and 'members shall be entitled to vote by proxy.'

Barman said Ostroff never made it verbally clear at the beginning of the meeting that he would postpone the election. Barman and the other candidates believed the election was the third item on the agenda, but Ostroff said it was the second item.

'After calling the meeting to order, I announced that it was my decision to postpone agenda Item 2 until July,' said Ostroff. 'Nobody said anything and we proceeded to the other agenda items. If nobody says anything, it's considered to be waived.'

Many who attended the meeting assumed that the agenda would follow the same order of items described in the PNA May newsletter. Ostroff said that was not the official agenda.

Whether the current PNA board is legitimate is a point of contention for Barman and other candidates.

Barman said the PNA by-laws require an annual board election for the 17 members, every April.

'They're illegally in office after April,' he said. 'Their entire demeanor was illegal.'

Ostroff said the last election was in April 2006. He said 'there was confusion if the terms were one or two years,' so there was no election this April.

Sarah Selden, the city of Lake Oswego's neighborhood planner, said there is a new requirement, as of March, that the neighborhood boards have elections every year.

Selden said the city doesn't have legal authority over a neighborhood association, of which there are 20 in the city.

'They're a completely separate, legal entity from the city,' Selden said.

The city does pay for periodic mailings by the associations, and association board members are encouraged to share neighborhood issues during city council, planning commission and design review commission public hearings.

She said each neighborhood association can craft by-laws. The associations, she said, usually follow Robert's Rules of Order or at the very least conduct meetings 'with fairness and common courtesy,' she said.

As the city's largest neighborhood association, with more than 1,500 households, the Palisades association is at a critical point in drafting its neighborhood plan, Barman said.

Because of that, he and 16 others want a fair chance to serve on the board.

Mike Hall, who hoped to be elected to the board last week, said the current board squashed hopes for a fair election.

'The people simply did not have a voice,' Hall said.

'We hope to resolve this problem without any more conflict than has already occurred,' Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad said at a meeting Tuesday.

A date for the next meeting has not been set. Selden agreed that the by-laws will require an election be held 'at 7 p.m. at a public location' before June 28.

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