• Allan Classen

Coalition takes turn,seeks OK after fact

Neighbors West-Northwest hired a consultant to help update its mission a year ago.

A retreat of the neighborhood coalition’s board last January led to a brainstorming session and formation of a Visioning Committee. After meeting two or three times, the committee proposed no plan of action, the chair finally apologizing for “dropping the ball.”

NWNW Executive Director Mark Sieber remains undaunted. Last month, as he proposed another retreat with a different facilitator, the board balked at a redux.

“The last one didn’t work, so let’s try it again?” scoffed board member Walter Weyler, who considered the 2020 retreat “a waste of time.”

“Can we just talk about our direction?” Weyler asked.

Board member Steve Pinger agreed, suggesting that the board could consider revisions of its mission statement at its monthly meetings.

“These are board issues, not visioning issues,” Pinger said.

At the end of the January board meeting, there was general agreement to take both lanes at once: The board will discuss its goals and direction each month while staff will schedule another retreat, possibly in March.

Sieber still saw the retreat as the main path forward and the board discussions as “the preliminary work for the retreat.”

The Visioning Committee has left few crumbs along its trail. Occasional reports at board meetings have mentioned little beyond the committee’s existence. But two records requests by the NW Examiner have uncovered a strategy to gain the organization’s imprimatur.

Documents from an April 30 visioning session, attended by two coalition staff members, three past board presidents and a former neighborhood association president, include this opening statement:

“It has become more and more clear, especially over this last year, that NWNW needs to evolve beyond the current model of providing support services almost exclusively to its member neighborhood associations.

“The inequities of the past have taken center stage, and actively working to support previously underserved populations is no longer suggested but essential, even (and especially) if they don’t filter in through our established channels.

“Given these circumstances (and because it’s about time!), NWNW staff want to move this organization forward.”

The manifesto was not shared with the board, which throughout 2020 was given a few brief updates that did not mention policy goals or the assumed declining demand for services by neighborhood associations.

How was the coalition to be brought on board?

In another document, the visioning project manager wrote of the need to “give them [vision committee members] the extra buy-in that is needed to sell this all to the board.”

NWNW Treasurer Les Blaize insists the vision process “was not unilaterally thrust upon a comatose board by our staff.”

The board has “been discussing this in some form or another” since he joined the board in 2000, Blaize wrote in an email to the NW Examiner.

“There is no staff cabal. … I can assure you, no matter how many times staff snaps their fingers, the board will not blindly approve a ‘major mission-changing program’ without critical thought and a vote.”

Changing the mission of NWNW may involve more than critical thought and adoption of a motion.

Coalition bylaws stipulate its purpose as serving the goals of its member neighborhood associations. To add other types of organizations to the coalition, or “expand the membership with intentionality,” in the lingo of a staff memo, would seem to require at least bylaw revision.

It may entail more than that. The Portland Office of Community & Civic Life, which provides almost all of NWNW’s funding, is bound by city ordinance to recognize and fund neighborhood associations. An effort by former City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly to remove the agency’s specific focus on neighborhood associations failed for lack of support from any other members of the council.

Despite this rebuke, Eudaly accomplished her goals administratively by removing or redirecting virtually all Civic Life staff that were previously serving neighborhood associations.

NWNW staff apparently drew the conclusion that it was easier to make changes on their own without waiting for approval. With no board vote or budget authorization, a new program managed by new hire Rhys Hawes, Building Diverse Communities, began holding online discussions, workshops and lectures in January.

Topics for February include “What does it mean to be an active ally?” “Stating your pronouns and other small things to promote inclusion” and “Hate, housing and the landscape of our city.”


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