The next step in making Bend’s new Neighborhood Association Program a reality took place this week as more than a dozen interested individuals from across the city gathered with coordinator Sharon Leighty to help chart the course.
The group hopes to build on the energy and enthusiasm expressed by more than 130 people who packed Hollinshead Barn a month ago for the city’s first “Neighborhood Summit” (see bend.com’s story on that event at http://bend.com/forums2/article_view.php?SID=&num=266&aid=437).
Among those on hand at Monday night’s session were newcomers and oldtimers, Westsiders and Eastsiders, all interested in helping give residents a bigger voice in city affairs through creation of the neighborhood associations found in most larger Northwest cities. While some had more personal reasons for taking part – Bee Meister, a 36-year resident, is worried that connecting 15th Street to Highway 20 will make it “a thoroughfare like 27th Street” – many expressed hope that the neighborhood groups will move beyond short-term crises and political agendas to deeply influence city priorities for the long term.
Greg Hoshovsky, who lives near Pilot Butte, said there “doesn’t seem to be good communication with the city” and its residents, while Chuck Robinson, a retired teacher, said his 30 years in Vancouver, Wash., convinced him of the value of neighborhood associations: “I believe in them,” he said. “I’ve seen them work. Others involved include retired Forest Service log scaler Mike Lovely, recent City Council candidate Shawn Corrigan and former Deschutes County lawyer Bruce White, who helped form Bend’s first formal neighborhood association in Old Town several years ago.
Darcy McNamara, who recently left the directorship of the Bend Riverway Project, shared a common concern – that the neighborhood association effort not simply result in a lot more meetings – something everyone can do with as few of as possible. Another overriding factor sought by those in attendance and backed up by Leighty is to keep the process of forming and running neighborhood associations as simple as possible, with city assistance in the form of sample bylaws, newsletters and the like. Otherwise, burnout very well could ensue and some neighborhoods will suffer sharp rises and declines in involvement.
The 130 folks attending the summit were “pretty broad based,” geographically, said Leighty, who has been working with a database to break down those involved by which potential neighborhood group they would be part of. “The weakest area (in attendance) was the Awbrey Butte area,” she said, adding that she has yet to complete the work and that perhaps they stuck fewer “sticky notes” on their part of the maps.
Brainstorming abounds early in neighborhood association process
Early issues range from the size of possible neighborhood associations – not too large and unwieldy, yet not too small and fragmented – to laying out the benefits of such groups, such as potential grant offerings, as well as explaining the differences between neighborhood associations and existing homeowner associations. Those on hand Monday night suggested a variety of benefits, including a full-time advocate for public involvement at City Hall who also can answer questions for citizens, find out the answers or connect them to the right person or department to respond to a concern. Another idea is a “handbook to city government,” in print and online.
Leighty also is meeting with city legal officials to determine whether the rules require that neighborhood groups, usually formed as nonprofit organizations, must follow Oregon’s open meetings law, in terms of public notice, minutes and the like.
Everyone left with a predictably large stack of paper to review, including a draft neighborhood association handbook, a list of possible neighborhood association requirements, details about the city of Milwaukie’s neighborhood matching grant program, Portland’s policy on neighborhood newsletters and various cities’ codes and guidelines. Two more meetings are planned at the Bend-La Pine School Administration Building, 520 NW Wall St., Room 312, at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 12 and Monday, Jan. 8, before Leighty presents some recommendations to the new city council, likely in February.
Leighty can be contacted at 312-4912 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .