Comity breaks down, grievance takes center stage
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Neighborhood association facing complexities of adjudicating official complaint from committee member
By Allan Classen
City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s broadside crusade against Portland neighborhood associations was an official failure, unable to even introduce an ordinance to enact her alternative vision for grass-roots empowerment.
On the other hand, it may have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, weakening and dividing existing neighborhood associations until they exposed their weaknesses and the need for reform.
Local transportation issues, governed by Eudaly’s other bureau, the Portland Bureau of Transportation, have set the Northwest District Association against itself in a cascading series of disputes taking an increasingly personal tone.
Despite having two years to prepare, the NWDA board failed to agree on a motion regarding NW in Motion, a package of street infrastructure projects designed to reduce auto impacts on safety and livability. The delegation sent to City Council to deliver the association’s compromise position soon fell under attack by a member of the NWDA Transportation Committee, who filed a formal grievance against two who testified.
Before protocols for handling the grievance could be established, bodies have been falling all around:
• Phil Selinger, a mainstay and former chair of the Transportation Committee, resigned from the committee in September over frustration with the organization’s handling of NWIM.
• NWDA Second Vice President Ron Walters resigned his office in early October, telling NWDA President Ciaran Connelly that his views were no longer being considered.
• Transportation Committee member Sarah Erlund filed a grievance against board member Steve Pinger and fellow Transportation Committee member Larry Kojaku.
• Damien Erlund, co-chair of the Transportation Committee and Sarah’s spouse, called for the removal of Kojaku from the committee, a recourse believed unprecedented in NWDA history.
• Four members of the Transportation Committee—the Erlunds, Alexandra Zimmerman and Alex Lebow—threatened to resign over frustration with the association’s treatment of their committee.
• Rick Michaelson and Karen Karlsson resigned from the Northwest Parking Stakeholders Advisory Committee, a city-created body comprised of equal representation from NWDA and the Northwest Business Association. They resigned in protest over a behind-the-scenes city process in which Zimmerman was appointed to the SAC (though not because Zimmerman was the designee).
The October NWDA board meeting was dominated by discussion of the association’s internal dissension.
President Connelly wanted to focus on suggestions for improving its processes, but what followed resembled bloodletting and recrimination.
“My goal with my grievances is a culture change,” said Sarah Erlund, who is also a board member.
She said the organization feels “very toxic and not welcoming. At times, it has been agonizing to be involved. … I’m so tired of dealing with it. I am so over it. You guys are the worst.”
Several board members advised that the grievance should be mediated privately, fearing deeper wounds and the discrediting of the organization are the likely results of a full grievance process
Pinger asked Erlund, “If I was out of bounds, then please talk to me.”
“I didn’t reach out to you because I have found you to be very toxic,” she replied.
Board and Planning Committee member Chuck Duffy said the grievance is unfounded and could harm the organization and its effectiveness.
“This is an organization founded by Bud Clark, and I was on the board with Vera Katz,” Duffy said. “Here come these two folks with no history throwing bombs like this.”
He advised Connelly and other NWDA leaders to sit down and work out their differences, so far without gaining traction.