The current issue of Portland’s Willamette Week has a “pop quiz” for the newly inaugurated Mayor Wheeler, who starts his position today. One of the eyebrow-raising questions concerned the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, or ONI: “True or false: ONI is the city bureau most in need of reform.”
His response: “It’s tied for first place.” (With the Police Bureau, we later learned.
The Office of Neighborhood Involvement is a feature of pride for a city that has a reputation for citizen activism and strong neighborhood representation in government affairs. But recent developments have exposed deep problems in the department, and perhaps in the City’s wider culture of stakeholder representation. The Mayor’s comments come less than two months after a scathing article in The Oregonian:
“City auditors have found a trifecta of problems inside Portland’s office promoting neighborhoods and civic engagement, including poor oversight, unequal funding and unfinished plans.”
Among other issues, the Oregonian article described unequal funding for citizens in different parts of the city, with notably higher funding in the core than in the periphery:
“In the last fiscal year, officials doled out $2.1 million to the seven district coalitions that serve as umbrella groups for various neighborhood associations. Of that, the East Portland Neighborhood Office and the Central Northeast group each received nearly the same amount of money — just under $300,000. But the east office represents nearly 150,000 people, three times as many residents as Central Northeast, meaning it received about $2 for every person in its dominion compared to about $6 for the other group.”