[Posted December 17, 2021]
Contributed by Don Baack and Glenn Bridger
Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc. (SWNI) has served as the coalition umbrella for SW neighborhood associations and other community groups for over 40 years under the city of Portland’s first-of-its-kind neighborhood system of community engagement. Last year, Commissioner Joanne Hardesty led the city council to cut funding and ties to SWNI, pledging that the city's Office of Civic Life would take over the support role for SW civic organizations previously filled by SWNI. SWNI has continued to provide limited services to its member organizations and to fight for its existence and relevance since the upheaval. In the latest development, SWNI president Steve Mullinax contends that the city’s take-over of SWNI functions is in violation of city code.
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The residents of Southwest Portland need their own voice. An independent, coordinated voice for the many communities that comprise SW PDX has been important in the past; it is essential for our future. Our SW communities strive to meet the future as informed individuals. How will we do this? We must form an even stronger community coordinating group to focus our mutual needs.
The following are elements that we feel should be considered and/or included in a future SW Community organization to guide us in a unified manner for the next 50 years.
Name change: The SWNI name has a lot of baggage. A new organization should have a more inclusive name, something like SW Community Service, SW Community Action, SW Advocates. Or??
Open the membership: This SW community organization should be open to other SW place-based independent organizations so long as they retain their independent status.
Governing group of manageable size: As the number of potential constituent organizations grows, the governance structure must be streamlined to be manageable. Who sits at the table? How are those at the table selected? What structure serves SW PDX the best?
Committee membership: Membership in the new organization will encompass a variety of interests, needs, and desires. Specialty/research committees provide a venue where the issues of SW PDX can be debated across organizational lines. Committee seats will be filled by self-selection from the member organizations and may include multiple persons from those organizations. Committees may be created to focus on key topics such as transportation, parks, land use, equity, etc.
Provide independent authority to specialty/research committees: These committees of assembled expertise in the respective areas are authorized to take independent action using their collective best judgement.
Non-profit status: The new organization is expected to obtain 501(c)(3) status and to be an advocate for SW PDX to the degree allowed by the rules governing such entities.
Publications and web presence: The organization must have an active and well managed web voice that provides a forum for discussion of issues, member organization notices of meetings, action, and service in SW PDX.
Conclusion: The current Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc. (SWNI) name has been damaged in the past several years. The City of Portland has defunded SWNI but not taken the steps to eliminate SWNI as a community organization. Perhaps some city and Civic Life leaders expected the organization to cease to exist once the funding plug was pulled! That has not happened. Volunteers and financial contributors have kept the organization working, albeit at a much lower level of service.
Looking forward, we feel it is necessary to restructure our SW Community organization to be more open, inclusive and effective and to make it once again a strong advocate for improving our SW community for all of our residents.
Be a part of creating this new direction. What can you do? Be a volunteer or active member of a community group that builds the Portland you want to see. You can shape the community your friends, children, and grandchildren will live in. Use your voice, and your skills, to shape your community and assure SW PDX has a say in what our future will be. Make this new SW voice a reality.
Glenn Bridger is vice president of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association and a past president of SWNI.
Don Baack is a member of the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association Board, the SWNI Board Representative to the Hillsdale Business and Professional Association Board, and the founder of SWTrails.
What do you think? Should the city take over the support and coordinating role for SW community organizations currently filled by SWNI? Or should SW continue to have an independent coalition, and should that coalition be represented by SWNI? Let us know.