|Leonard, neighborhoods clash on crime program revamp, exclusion from process
Mid-County meeting leads to political challenge
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
Last month, Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard journeyed out to Mid-County to clear the air with neighborhood activists critical of his approach to neighborhood issues. By the end of the day he had inspired a movement to unseat him from his City Council position.
The catalyst had been Leonards move to restructure the citys Neighborhood Crime Prevention program. He proposes to make the citys crime prevention specialists responsible for analyzing local problems and devising solutions. In preparation for this, he is abolishing the position and creating a new job. The existing specialists are invited to apply for the position, but are by no means assured of getting it.
Neighborhood volunteers throughout the city had protested the dislocation in the program, and the lack of involvement in the process by the affected neighborhood association coalitions. The East Portland neighborhood chairs all signed a letter of protest to Leonard, one of six such letters from neighborhood coalitions throughout the city. (At press time, all eight of the specialists who are affected by the action had applied for the new positions, and seven had reached the interview stage. According to reliable sources the eighth specialist, Kenneth Edwards of the Northeast Neighborhood Office, had been offered and accepted a newly-created job with the citys Towing Enforcement Program.)
The Leonard version
At the September 30 meeting in the East Precinct community room, attended by about 30 people from throughout the city, Leonard began by saying he wanted to correct the misinformation that had been circulating about the issue. What had precipitated his action, he said, was another initiative he had proposed earlier in the year - a proposal to reduce the operating hours of liquor license holders whose operations lead to neighborhood problems. Currently exclusively the Oregon Liquor Control Commission regulates liquor licenses, and neighborhood residents have long complained that this agency is not responsive to their concerns.
According to Leonard, he had met with the crime prevention specialists and told them he wanted them to take on responsibility for his new program. I thought theyd react favorably to this new tool, he said. However, he said, a few reacted by saying, This is not in our job description, and we wouldnt be favorable to it being added. Because of this, he said, he took the course he did. (Rhetta Drennan, who serves as shop steward for the crime prevention specialists and did not attend this meeting, later told the Memo that only one specialist, who already has the new classification and was not affected by the process, had objected to the proposal. As a single parent, she had reservations about having to perform late-hour tavern inspections. When this worker was assured this wouldnt be required, Drennan said, she dropped her objections.)
Russell Neighborhood Association chair Bonny McKnight told Leonard, All the things you say youre doing need to be done. We need to put teeth in the back of good neighbor agreements (between neighborhood associations and liquor outlets.) I dont understand why the entire organization needed to be changed. Just instruct the staff.
Madison South Neighborhood Association chair Susan Hamilton, among others, also said she didnt understand why abolishing the old positions was necessary. It seems to me it would involve another line of type on their job description, she said. I dont get it.
I didnt get it either, Leonard replied. I thought theyd react favorably to this new tool. Theres a culture within the city that says, We have the jobs we do, and we wont do anything different than what we do. Its very entrenched. Im not going to debate it, and spend a lot of time fighting about it. Im trying to minimize the impact, but were going to provide the services were going to provide. I dont want to have anyone actually lose a job.
Leonard said that anyone who wasnt rehired would be offered another job somewhere in city government. He was told the contract called only for the terminated workers to be offered a chance to apply for a vacant position within their job classification within the next 90 days. He conceded, Its true that in civil service you cant just give a job to people, but they have a lot of experience.
Asked by McKnight and others why this explanation wasnt given to the public Leonard said, I didnt think it was appropriate to talk about this with anyone but the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) and the Bureau of Personnel. Its inappropriate for the bureau manager to discuss bureau affairs in public. I try not to embarrass people who are exercising their union rights.
Hamilton suggested he might have discussed the issue with neighborhood office directors. Im like you, when I think Im right I dont want to back down, but we wouldnt be having this discussion if you had talked about it earlier, she said.
Leonard replied, Thats possible. I want to think about that some more. But my understanding is that there has been an historic division between neighborhood offices and city hall. Neighborhood office executive directors are not part of my staff, and for me to talk to someone not part of my staff about personnel decisions is inappropriate.
The change is part of a larger strategy to bring city services closer to the public, including the transfer of people from other bureaus into ONI and stationing them in neighborhood offices, Leonard said. I honestly believe when we get to the other side of this it will prove its worth, he said. Youll have access to city services in a way you never could have had before in a much more customer-friendly fashion.
Its about process
Several people, especially McKnight, said that the issue wasnt the substance of Leonards ideas but his lack of public process in implementing them. Commissioner, this is not different from where wed all like to get, but we work on problems daily, she said. The lesson for you is you didnt ask any of us about the loss of 15 years of experience. You didnt take us along with you. She later added, You didnt discuss this at any meeting I attended, or at any meeting anyone I talked to attended, until a month ago. I disagree with the way you characterize the issue, Leonard replied. Im here to make things happen that I think are important that make some people unhappy. I have to have some flexibility to get there. I cant be put in a position where a personnel decision has to be processed with the neighborhoods. Im attempting to come at it in a new way. Has it caused some disruption? Yes!
The debate continued, with McKnight getting more frustrated and Leonard harder and more defensive. After she asked several times what he thought the role of the neighborhood association structure should be she said, Im not getting an answer.
Youre not getting the answer you want to hear, Leonard retorted. He argued that he had in fact discussed his ideas before, and that they were part of the campaign promises that had led to his election.
Still later, when it was suggested he begin a process to select a replacement for ONI director David Lane, who announced his resignation in September, Leonard indicated he had already settled on Jimmy Brown, a worker in Multnomah countys juvenile justice department. Ive known him for 45 years, he said. His neighborhood relationships are second to none. His integrity is second to none. If he were chosen it would be a coup for the city.
Several people present said theyd like to see more process go into the choice. Leonard said Brown would talk to each coalition. However, he said, It has to be someone I pick, not someone you pick. He added, It seems that for some people everythings a battle. I try to call on people who help me solve problems, and avoid people who create them.
Time for a campaign?
He seemed more positive toward Hamilton, who he said would be part of a panel screening crime prevention worker candidates.
At a second meeting barely two hours after the first, at which some of the same participants and some others gathered, those present described Leonard as defensive and rigid in his public posture. Theres a defensiveness thats hard to get around, and the flip side is a lack of respect, McKnight said. He wants to fix city government, and sees that as his role. Weve had a lot of commissioners who didnt defend us, but here we have one who attacks us. When you have a leader who doesnt want you around, it makes things difficult.
Paul Leistner of Mount Tabor added, Hes behaving like an Afghan warlord. He wants to make the bureau over in his own image and likeness. The discussion soon turned to a political solution, with people promoting the idea of running neighborhood representatives as candidates for Council seats. Leistner later announced that he would oppose Leonard in the next election.
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