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Neighborhoods face a leadership void

But recent high turnover at community associations doesn't indicate a bigger trend, many say


As East Portland community leaders scrap for more attention from City Hall, a changing of the guard is underway in the area’s neighborhood associations.

The elected leaders of eight of the 13 East Portland neighborhood associations are stepping down by year’s end, including several veteran community activists.

“This is probably the largest turnover I’ve seen,” says Richard Bixby, director of the city’s East Portland Neighborhood Office. “Normally we have two or three chairs turn over every year, and this year it turned out to be eight.”

Bixby and others say there’s no discernible trend here, just a constellation of individual reasons for people leaving their posts. Some are ready to pass the baton, and others have medical issues or more-pressing time commitments.

Fall is when neighborhood associations schedule their annual meetings to select new boards and association leaders, which explains why so many of the leaders are leaving at the same time.

Mark White, who has worked five years to elevate the public profile of Portland’s largest neighborhood by population, Powellhurst-Gilbert, says he’s working 80 hours a week and lacks the time to continue in his chairman’s post. A new leader has not yet been chosen.

Other departing neighborhood association leaders who have gained influence at City Hall over the years include Bonnie McKnight of the Russell neighborhood, Linda Bauer of Pleasant Valley and Nick Christensen of Lents.

The Argay, Mill Park, Parkrose and Wilkes neighborhood association leaders also are stepping down. Some of the neighborhood associations recently named new leaders, while others are in the process of picking them.

“There’s a lot of new folks who are getting involved,” Bixby says. “In some of the cases, it’s been younger folks coming in.”

In Lents, Christensen was replaced by Jesse Cornett, a veteran political activist who moved into Lents in 2009.

But some of the newcomers may not know their way around City Hall as much as those they are replacing. “It’s a matter of knowing how to access the people in positions of power,” Bixby says.

But he doesn’t expect to see the area’s clout suffer. Several of the departing association leaders will still be active in the neighborhoods, Bixby notes. “We’re not expecting a problem getting our message across.”