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The Oregon state Capitol is seen in Salem, Ore., on Jan. 11, 2018. Oregon lawmakers will take up a full slate of legislation on pressing and polarizing issues from homelessness to gun control to abortion access when the legislative session starts next week after midterm elections that cost Democrats their supermajority but swept in a new, progressive governor. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 11 May 2023


TJ McHugh clarified that when he took over the position on March 9, he had assumed predecessor Michael Montoya had communicated proposed budget changes to DCL partners. 

McHugh announced that the budget gap has since been closed and that the DCL will retain its full funding, offering this statement from Commissioner Ryan: 

“The Office of Community and Civic Life is undergoing a strategic reset to return to its mission of being objective convenors and ensuring the community has access to our city government – all while building the scaffolding for the four districts outlined in the voter-approved Charter Reform. To build stronger neighborhoods, we must align shared responsibilities outcomes, and goals across all our partners.

“My office has worked closely with the other Commissioners and Acting Director McHugh to overcome Civic Life’s budget shortfall. Thanks to the collaborative approach, the office will be able to maintain full funding of the Diverse Civic Leadership program while also investing in District Coalition Offices that serve the historically under-resourced areas of the city as well as the Small Grants Program that serves thousands across our BIPOC, Immigrant and Refugee, LGBTQ+ and at-risk communities.”

Members of the Oregon Legislative BIPOC Caucus slammed proposed city budget changes that they say will result in “a net loss in the volume of community engagement” from residents of color and non-English speakers.

In a letter to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Ryan, caucus members questioned why the city’s Office of Community and Civic Life found it necessary to cut more than $500,000 from their Diversity and Civic Leadership funding.

“The proposed budget cut would…irreparably impact the relationship between our communities and City government,” they wrote, arguing it “contradicts the City of Portland’s core values and commitments to anti-racism and equity.”

lew frederick introLew Frederick (D-Portland)kayse jama 2023 introKayse Jama (D-Portland)Calls to the offices of both Commissioner Ryan and Mayor Wheeler were not immediately returned.

The letter was cosigned by senators Lew Frederick (D-Portland) and Kayse Jama (D-Portland), as well as representatives Travis Nelson (D-Portland), Ricki Ruiz (D-Gresham), Daniel Nguyen (D-Lake Oswego), Thuy Tran (D-Portland), Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas), Hoa Nguyen (D-Damascus), Khanh Pham (D-SE Portland), Farrah Chaichi (D-Aloha), Hai Pham (D-Hillsboro) and Annessa Hartman (D-Gladstone).

Organizational Changes

The Office of Community and Civic Life (OCCL) is undergoing substantial restructuring after a tumultuous few years marked by internal accusations of a toxic work culture and abusive management style. T.J. McHugh, Ryan’s policy advisor, is currently acting as the department’s interim director.

It was a quick line item that lasted no more than five minutes during the city council’s March 20 budget work session: McHugh explained that some of the regulatory programs his office oversees – liquor, noise and cannabis – will transfer to the Bureau of Development Services by the end of June. The Social Equity & Educational Development (SEED) Grant Fund will be under Prosper Portland’s purview within the same timeframe. This will lead to a budgetary shortfall in OCCL, he said.

“To continue our neighborhood-based work, we will need additional funding to preserve the workforce and continue our equity-forward grantmaking, and service delivery,” McHugh said. “The Office of Community and Civic Life supported our neighborhood association district coalitions offices with one-time general fund support. In the (2023-2024 fiscal year), City Life will redirect a portion of its leadership development grants to rectify the constraint on the general fund requests in the amount of $535,530.”

He later added, “We do have a budget shortfall.

"We’re trying to offset it with our reallocation of grantmaking from our DCLs into our small grant program, and so that’s where we get the $500,000.”

Critics argue this would streamline culturally specific resources, putting DCL partners in competition for previously guaranteed funding streams.

“Cutting DCL programs by half would devastate the programs’ ability to provide leadership development opportunities that meet the needs of communities of color,” members of the BIPOC Caucus wrote.

Currently, the DCL funds community-specific training programs to promote community and municipal leadership through the Urban League's Advocacy and Civic Engagement Program, the Latino Network's Líderes program, NAYA's Oregon LEAD program to train leaders throughout Oregon's Indigenous communities, IRCO's Engage Program and Unite Oregon's PILOT program.

According to the OCCL, the DCL programs have trained as many as 698 leaders from underrepresented and marginalized communities since DCL’s inception in 2006.

“These reductions were the only cuts in Civic Life’s proposed budget and move resources away from programs dedicated to supporting communities of color to the benefit of other programs,” members of the BIPOC Caucus wrote.

During the session, McHugh argued the reallocation was part of OCCL’s work “at the frontline of economic recovery.”

“For Portland at large to recover, we need to focus on the economic recovery of our 94 neighborhoods and the people living in them,” he said.  As an example, our neighborhood small grants and sponsorship fund provides grants to community-based organizations to help them put on events, activities and projects that strengthen community and build inclusion and support engagement.”

Arguments For Inclusivity

Ryan's predecessor overseeing the OOCL, former Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, made an ambitious if controversial attempt to de-emphasize the influence of the then 95 recognized neighborhood associations (the city now recognizes 94). Eudaly argued there should be a more equitable and inclusive system, citing an Office of Neighborhood Involvement audit that found renters, low-income residents and residents of color were underrepresented in neighborhood associations across the city.

travis nelson 2022 introRep. Travis Nelson (D-Portland)Critics of the recent budget proposal voiced similar concerns regarding the OOCL’s new budget priorities.

“Whether intentionally or unintentionally, people of color are often left out of those neighborhood associations, which do have an allocation of the city’s budget,” Rep. Travis Nelson (D-Portland) told The Skanner. “My understanding is they’re planning on giving that money back to neighborhood associations, and that’s problematic for the Urban League, the Latino Network, APANO, IRCO and NAYA.”

When Commissioner Mingus Mapps inquired about civic engagement around this proposal, McHugh said he had received no feedback from DCL partners, but that neighborhood associations were “extremely happy.”

Critics of the proposal argue that impacted organizations simply weren’t told about the cuts.

“We are further disturbed that Diversity and Civic Leadership partners were never informed of the proposed cuts and were denied an opportunity to provide feedback,” members of the BIPOC caucus wrote.

Calls to McHugh’s office asking for clarification were not returned by press deadline.

“We ask that you live up to the City of Portland’s values of anti-racism and equity, and restore full funding to the Diversity and Civic Leadership’s programs,” the BIPOC Caucus concluded in its letter. “Moving forward, we also encourage that these funds be incorporated into the base budget to ensure that Civil Life’s ongoing commitment to the partnership is clear and sustained in future budget cycles.”

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