Cleveland High hosts Mayor’s ‘Budget Forum’

Learn what citizens had to say about the new, round-robin format designed to encourage more input regarding the Portland City budget …

The organizer of the event, Laurel Butman, of the Portland Office of Management and Finance, talks with Mayor Tom Potter, at the SE Portland meeting.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In an effort to strip away the mystery of the City of Portland’s budget process, the City’s Office of Management and Finance has created a new “citizens’ forum” format.

Instead of having a parade of City officials talk amongst themselves ‚Äì with little citizen input ‚Äì a new “round-robin” format was instituted at the meeting a couple of weeks ago at Cleveland High School, on S.E. Powell Boulevard.

Hundreds of people, from the far corners of outer East Portland ‚Äì to the close-in neighbors from inner SE Portland packed the school’s cafeteria.

Potter pleased with project
“I’m a graduate of this fine institution,” Mayor Tom Potter told us at the forum.

“This forum is a way for citizens to provide us input about what they think is important. It gives them a chance to look at what we are recommending. If there are things we need to add, they let us know.”

Looking out over a sea of tables, charts, and people, the mayor told us how this event differs from ones held in the past. “We have a table for each of the major bureaus of the city. There are some initiatives hosting tables, also —  including public safety and Children’s Bill of Rights.”

Surrounding the room were tables for neighborhood and community services. Sylvia Bogert, the executive director for SW Neighborhoods, Inc., and Cece Hughley Noe, the executive director of the Southeast Uplift Coalition agency. The latter explained, “We’re working together to show our support for the Office of Neighborhood Involvement budget.”

Citizens spent about ten minutes at each table, looking over the proposed budget for that particular department, and gave their input and listened to the opinions of others. Then, they rang a bell, and people changed tables.

Mayor Tom Potter, Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, and Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten told what they learned at this forum.

Commissioners comments
Wrapping up the evening, top city officials talked with the attendees.

“I’ve sat in at several of the tables,” commented Potter. “People are asking really good questions. It saves citizens time; we get more input of a higher quality. I think the result is much more effective.”

Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman said “I like it. I was able to wander around and hear many thoughtful comments at the tables. We’ll take the ideas. I appreciate the enthusiasm for sustainable development and parks, Children’s Bill of Rights, and other initiatives the City Council supports.”

“This has been really been fun”, enthused Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten. “I’ve had more in-depth conversations that I usually get. We were just talking about affordable housing. I do think it is important that we get good feedback from all of the tables. Having more in-depth discussions is more helpful than two-minute ‘hits’ from a few people. I heard a lot about how the City can better integrating projects and programs. You’ve set the bar very high.”

The tables were filled with citizens — learning more about the city’s budget, and asking probing questions about expenditures.

Many people at the event with whom we spoke were upbeat about the new format.

Business and housing concerns
Nancy Chapin, from the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood, said she liked hearing that more storefront-improvement funds will go to businesses outside the Urban Renewal Districts. “As important as housing is, I’m still concerned there is still way too much housing in southeast Portland with not nearly enough community development. The city is still spending too much money downtown.”

“Did you feel you’d been heard?” we asked.

“Well, they wrote it down,” Chapin replied.

View from Mt. Tabor
Neighborhood activist Paul Leistner, Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association and chair of SE Uplift, commented, “There is some good projects here, but we have more good projects than we have money to fund. I hope the community will stay engaged and continue to have a voice in this process.”

We asked Leistner if he thought city officials were really listening. “I saw comments being written down. I know it doesn’t stop here. We have to continue to be heard to make sure the programs we feel are important get funded.”

Transportation topics
Marianne Colgrove, vice chair of SE Uplift, and Secretary of the Ardenwald/Johnson Creek neighborhood told us she liked being able to ask questions of city officials. “It was important to hear other people’s concerns. But I felt that the time at the tables wasn’t long enough.”

Colgrove said the major issues in her neighborhood are transportation and transportation safety. “Including a lot of the things people mentioned — pedestrian and bike safety, ‘Safe Routes to School’, traffic calming within the city to make it safer when not in a car.”

NE Portland resident Dave Lister said he liked being able to look over the City’s complete line-item budget, on display at the forum.

And finally, a quip from Lister ‚Ķ
A former City Counsel candidate, Dave Lister said this format was “much improved”, and quipped, “When [former mayor] Vera Katz ran these [forum meetings], they presented the budget in such a sophomoric fashion, they should have handed out coloring crayons!”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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