Board approves update to County code on Community Involvement Committee language, duties

December 14, 2018

Karen Burger, center, testifies on the Community Involvement Committee.

The Board of County Commissioners on Dec. 13 updated County code on the Community Involvement Committee, the Office of Community Involvement and the County’s Budget Advisory Committees.

After months of public hearings, focus groups and a survey on improving community engagement, the Board approved a resolution that:

  • Replaces the word “citizen” with “community.’’

  • Keeps representation on the Community Involvement Committee from each of the County’s four districts — but creates more at-large members, to allow for strong representation of historically marginalized communities and members who may move to another district.

  • Removes the requirement that applicants to the Community Involvement Committee be nominated by a community organization, though organizations will still be able to make nominations.

  • Gives authority to the Board, the Office of Community Involvement Executive Director (with approval from the Chief Diversity and Equity officer), and the Community Involvement Committee itself to remove members.

  • Identifies the duties of the Committee as being the County’s engagement-focused advisory body on outreach and civic participation, while also serving as a conduit for communication between the County and community.

  • Eliminates the requirement that the Committee submit written reports to the Board.

  • Keeps Committee meetings public, with published notices and minutes, but waives other public meeting requirements to allow multiple members to attend other public hearings or community events without raising concerns about quorum requirements.

  • Changes the nominations process for the Central Budget Advisory Committee so that positions on those committees no longer require nominations from a specific individual or group

The Board approved the changes 4-1, with Commissioner Loretta Smith opposing. She called the changes “administrative overreach” that should be handled by the Charter Review Committee.

“The charter does not need to match County policy,” she said. “The policy needs to match county charter.”

But her colleagues disagreed, saying a lack of clarity in the duties, policies and practices of the Community Involvement Committee contributed to conflict within the Committee, and between the Committee and County staff

The Committee has been unable to conduct business or deliver information to Commissioners since April 2017. After months of impasse, the Board voted in June to rescind everyone’s membership, and directed the Office of Community Involvement to conduct an extensive public engagement process on updating the language and code. Appointments to the updated Committee are expected in early 2019.

Sherri Willmschen said, as a member of the former Committee, that she opposed the changes, calling them overreach by Office of Community Involvement staff. (The Office has two staff members, including an executive director who was hired on the former Committee’s recommendation).

Willmschen also objected to the new language around geographic requirements.Though the Code preserves geographic representation by County district, it limits that representation to only one member from each district. Willmschen said that could leave east Multnomah County with less representation.

“I joined the [Committee] to be able to bring concerns forward like homelessness and hunger, my passion,” she said ”Due to the Office’s attempt to run the [Committee], we have not had citizen input since April 2017, and this further limits the [Board of County Commissioners] hearing from citizens of the community.”

Karen Burger, a former Troutdale City Council member who helped create the Committee in the 1980s and 1990s, and who served on other community committees for 10 years, asked the Board to delay. She offered to sit down with Commissioners “and share my experience and try to help you get through this process.”

Former Committee member Greg Anderson said a look at the last 30 years shows the original CIC “bears no resemblance to the [Committee] proposed for codification in today’s ordinance,’’ he said, characterizing the changes as a “power grab.”

“You will find the influence is significantly lessened from the citizen volunteer members, and that influence is increased to the staff to report to begin reporting to the County Chair’s Office,” Anderson said.

Bernardo Dela torre Guerrero, another former member, warned the Board about their political futures.

“I still feel you are moving forward without being fully informed, and the ramifications that can happen not only for community but for your political aspirations and your next elections. It will have impacts, and I guarantee that.’’

Harking back to his comments from June 28, 2018, he said, “I put you notice there will be a lawsuit if the resolution went forward. In the middle of September, it was served.’’

Board members thanked former Committee members, those who testified and staff from the Office of Community Involvement.

“This has been a really painful process for a lot of people, and I want to apologize for that, as it is never been our intent or desire to cause pain and suffering, and I take the concerns expressed today really very seriously,’’ Chair Deborah Kafoury said.  “Despite our disagreement on how to proceed, we all share the same goal: We all want to improve and enhance communications between the Board and the residents of Multnomah County. For me, that’s what this vote today is all about, and what this review has always been about, that is the spirit of the [Committee], to communicate and to involve.’’

“Unfortunately, the [Committee’s] interpersonal issues did not allow for that to happen. A large part of why we are here can be attributed to the lack of policy guidance and support for the [Committee] to resolve challenges and to conduct business in a way that aligns with County values.

“I believe this ordinance will change that.’’

The Chair, joined by Commissioners Sharon Meieran, Jessica Vega Pederson and Lori Stegmann then voted to approve the resolution.