Northeast Coalition votes out its executive director
By Lee Perlman/The Portland Observer
The Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, which represents several neighborhoods in mostly inner northeast Portland, has parted ways with its executive director Paige Coleman.
The reason for the employment termination is at best a matter of speculation. Coleman says the group’s executive committee made it clear that they were dissatisfied with her, but never presented her with an explanation.
“I don’t go where I’m not wanted,” she told the Portland Observer.
Chris Lopez, chair of coalition, declined to specify what the cause of the problems were. Asked if Coleman was told about perceived problems and given a chance to rectify them he said, “I’m not sure.”
Monday, the board asked former NECN staffer Shoshanna Cohen to serve as a part-time temporary executive director while a search for a permanent director is conducted.
The Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods is one of five coalitions run by volunteer boards made up of representatives of neighborhood associations and other interested parties. The system has operated in Portland since 1974, and in that time only two neighborhood office directors have been fired, both times at NECN.
Joseph Santos-Lyons was terminated in January 2008 and, on that occasion, the board (which then included Coleman as a representative of the Boise neighborhood) deliberately chose not to supply a reason for its actions.
Coleman notes that as director she increased the coalition’s interaction with neighborhoods, in addition to standing committees dealing with land use, transportation and public safety. She also tackled new community initiatives like economic development, gentrification and the proposed shipment of coal through Portland.
Under Coleman’s leadership, the coalition helped create the King Farmers Market and its Food Share program for subsidizing purchases with SNAP food stamps. The group joined efforts to provide low-cost installation of solar panels through its Solaraize Northeast program. They took aggressive positions against the proposed I-5 Columbia River Crossing bridge, and challenged the city’s handling of crowd control at Last Thursday celebrations on Northeast Alberta Street.
Such efforts “put us on the map,” Coleman says. “We strengthened our relationship with neighborhood associations, but what really made the light bulb go off was our advocacy. We provided a place for discussion. In my opinion, it was true community building.”
As recently as last spring, she says, the board had told her “I’m the best director they ever had.”
NECN’s first director, Edna Robertson, said she had steered clear of politics during her 19-year tenure on the theory that it could turn off people who didn’t agree with a political direction, and it could be that Coleman’s approach may have generated some dissatisfaction in this way.
Coleman says she has continued Robertson’s legacy by making the neighborhood office “like the northeast’s living room, where everyone is welcome.
“Times have changed since the 1970s and there are different issues,” Coleman said, but like Robertson, she said she advocated for public safety measures, and instituted programs such as the Youth Gang Outreach and TriMet Rider Advocates.
“Going beyond serving neighborhood associations is necessary if NECN wants to address “the real needs of the community,” she said.