Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Strimling Grilled at Neighborhood Meeting
Early campaign stop proves less than neighborly.


Portland State Senator Ethan Strimling faced some tough questioning and strong disagreement at the West End Neighborhood Association meeting at the Reiche School on August 9th.

Strimling’s topic of discussion for the evening was supposed to be all the recent changes at Portland West (of which Strimling is Executive Director) and all the new directions that the local social service agency is headed.

Portland West recently announced that the agency would no longer run its Time Dollar program, was ceasing publication of its quarterly Neighbors newspaper, and would no longer be part of the annual Holiday Gift distribution program.

Strimling started his presentation by apologizing to the twenty or so West Enders in attendance for being late, and for ‘being so formal’. Strimling was attired in a crisp shirt and tie, and shared with his audience that he had just returned from a dedication for the Portland West secretary who passed away recently and in whose memory a room at Portland West was being named.

Strimling launched into the storied history of Portland West, which he credited with saving the West End from gentrification through its purchase of 60 housing units which it administers as affordable housing, including the units at the St. Dominic’s School.

Strimling described the combining of the Time Dollar program with the East End Time Dollar program as being “more efficient.” However, a neighbor in attendance said that residents of the West End were no longer using the program because it was no longer convenient for them. A Portland West employee said that he would look into how the program’s outreach was being handled.

When Strimling appeared to be trying to convince the West End neighborhood group to take over the Christmas gift program, he was told by members that they did not have the resources to do it, and at any rate, Harris Charities, who did most of the work behind the program, was fully intending to continue it.

One project that Strimling didn’t mention in his presentation was the cessation of the publication of Neighbors, the organization’s in-house multi-lingual newspaper. But he faced strong disagreements with his version of how his agency related to the City Manager’s Policy Advisory Committee, the volunteer board which recommends federal funding for many of Portland West’s programs. He said that Portland West was strongly supportive several years ago of the neighborhood association taking over Portland West’s seat on the board. However, others remember Portland West trying desperately to hold onto the seat at the time, and relinquishing it reluctantly. Other claims he made about his agency’s dealing with the board were strongly disputed.

Strimling was also asked if his agency would be able to help the women who would be affected by the closing of the YWCA, and he said that Portland West would be “available to help in any way we can” but did not give any specifics.

Strimling was invited to speak at the meeting by WENA President and fellow Democrat Robert O’Brien, who recently announced that he would be running against Green Party School Board member Stephen Spring for the West End seat on the Portland School Committee. O’Brien had originally planned to run against West End State Rep John Eder, but backed out of that race saying that he was overcommitted and was replaced by the current Democratic challenger Jon Hinck.


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