June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

New Jefferson Westside voting procedures may face early test

14 min read
Jefferson Westside updated its election procedures. The neighborhood will now provide a voter pamphlet, enable absentee voting, and replace a series of votes on each board position with one ballot.

Jefferson Westside votes unanimously to update election rules, after a slate of challengers made a strong showing in April in a bid to take over the neighborhood board. One of seven candidates on the slate ‘JWN for Everyone,’ Matie Trewe:

[00:00:14] Matie Trewe (JWN for Everyone): We did a lot of canvassing prior to that meeting, prior to the election, we talked to a lot of people. And even before we made the decision to run against the anointed candidates, we talked to a lot of neighbors, a lot of people who have been homeowners for decades, and the consensus was like: yeah, I went to one JWN meeting, and I’m never going back. They’re such an insular group, you know, the reception was so hostile to anybody who challenges their political views that yeah, I mean, it’s challenging to get people even to believe you’re going and trying to win an election there.

[00:00:44] John Q: During that election meeting April 11, longtime JWN board members Paul Conte and Ted Coopman came in for sharp criticism.

[00:00:53] Matie Trewe: I think it’s very clear that Ted has his own agenda, and that what he’s looking for is people who are going to support that agenda. He’s very conservative when it comes to anything changing housing policy in this area. I know Paul was particularly focused on this 1984 neighborhood plan that he drafted, you know, when I was a toddler.

[00:01:11] And I actually read it because he had sent out this email being like, you know, ‘What’s your position on this? And have you read this document?’ And so I actually found it and read it and it’s all, like, how many dormers you can have on each side of your roof, really, really nitpicky stuff.

[00:01:25] And it’s like, really? This is what you want to keep things to? Forty years ago, we had a slightly different economic reality back then, and this is what you want to hold our neighborhood to? But yeah, I think it is this very conservative vision that they want it to be middle-class, single-family homes, downtown with a lawn.

[00:01:43] And it’s like, you can be downtown in a single-family home with a lawn, but you ain’t middle-class. We bought our house a few years ago. It was very expensive to be able to get those things in a walkable neighborhood. And I lived in JWN when I was in college, and then I lived in another rental that was just outside JWN. But a lot of the rentals in this area are these older houses that have been added onto and added onto and subdivided and they are not well taken care of.

[00:02:10] They’re not really dignified workforce housing. A lot of them have horrible mold problems, horrible structural problems. They’re tenements with curb appeal and that is really what they’re wanting to maintain. Because when you look at the people that they listen to—the people who are their voters—a lot of them are property owners. But ignoring the people who just can’t make that Tuesday afternoon (meeting) because they work, because they have childcare duties, because they have other things.

[00:02:37] So, it’s really about: This is their demographic, these, older wealthy people who own property, and they may say that they want to bring other people in, but they’re really not interested in listening to their voices. The reception that we got was really nasty. They wouldn’t let us talk.

[00:02:56] We published a platform at the time that now, of course, the current board didn’t let us disseminate it at the meeting and then didn’t let us speak or answer questions.

[00:03:06] We had much more diverse candidates. We were actually going to look at the times of the meetings and seeking feedback and try to open it up and make it more accessible. But it was really clear that that wasn’t what the people—the voters at that meeting at least—wanted.

[00:03:21] They really wanted to stick with their Tuesday evening time and what they’d been doing and the group that they’d been representing.

[00:03:29] Ted Coopman (Jefferson Westside Neighbors): We went and talked with them all about it. Multiple board members went and talked with people about it, and they thought that we weren’t doing enough on homelessness, or were too quick to call the cops on homeless people (which only in extreme circumstances do we call the man in for the homeless thing). And then it was just all stuff that, it was really a matter that they just wanted to be the ones doing it.

[00:03:50] And based on my interactions with some of the people who were the ringleaders there in the past, I think it was really just an attempt to punish the existing board, and then to basically cut the knees out from under one of the most influential neighborhood associations in town.

They’re like, ‘We’re just going to completely rearrange how this is done.’ I’m like, well, okay, first you have to revise the bylaws, which is a complex process that you have to get buy-in on. You have to get 50% just to vote on it, and then you need two-thirds of the people there to approve it. So, you can’t just change things.

[00:04:28] And then how they’re going to do such a better job communicating with the city because they’re going to assign people to different parts of the city. And I’m just like, ‘You have no idea. You have no idea what it takes. You just have no grasp of what is involved.’

[00:04:42] ‘We’re going to fix those sidewalks!’ I’m like, if you have a strategy to get that done, I would want to hear, and that’s the whole thing. We’re like, ‘Hey, help us with the sidewalks, help us with this stuff.’

[00:04:53] And this is what chaps me about the people who came in. Nobody in that group is interested in doing anything with the neighborhood association. They wanted it the way they wanted it, and they went all in on trying to make that happen, and they lost.

[00:05:06] And so, we’re more than happy for them to be involved, and we listened to what their concerns were, but it came down to, they didn’t want us involved in land use positions because they thought we were anti-density (which is not true).

[00:05:20] And then and it’s also part of our charter. It’s like the first primary thing we’re responsible for as a neighborhood association. I’m like, ‘Look at the charter, that’s the main thing.’ So we really don’t have a choice. I’ve got to defend the prerogatives of the neighborhood association. I have to defend decisions that the neighbors have made in the past. And if they voted on this land use stuff in the past, I have two options: I can either defend that or I can quit, but that’s my responsibility.

[00:05:48] Matie Trewe: They were really just offended by our name, like the fact that we went with ‘JWN for Everyone,’ just the idea that we were pointing out that they didn’t represent everyone in the neighborhood, they were just deeply offended by that. And it’s like, ‘Well, you know, take a look around the room, people.’ And then all the accusations. All the sexism that we dealt with, and then all the accusations of ageism.

[00:06:08] The thing that always will always stick with me is Jesselyn (Perkins), who was our candidate for chair (and is just amazing and a force of nature), there was a neighbor who stood up and said, ‘You knocked on my door.’

[00:06:20] John Q: Here’s that neighbor, addressing candidate Jesselyn Perkins at the April 11 meeting.

[00:06:25] JWN resident (April 11, 2023): I don’t know where you live in the neighborhood, but I live directly behind the fairgrounds and I think on Easter Sunday you knocked on my door. And I didn’t answer because I don’t answer my door—for good reason—and I don’t know if you would understand that. When you knocked on my door, you didn’t have any understanding of what my problems were in the neighborhood.

[00:06:50] John Q: Reflecting on the election and the bylaws changes six months later:

[00:06:55] Matie Trewe: And it’s just like: Wow, this is my neighborhood. People knock on my door, I went canvassing. To live in that kind of fear and to have that kind of anxiety because there are unhoused people—

[00:07:08] There are a lot of people in this neighborhood who see unhoused people and they think, ‘I don’t get my hours this month, that’s going to be me.’ They think, ‘That could be me sleeping in a tent.’

[00:07:18] But there are other people who just, it’s abject terror to see someone impoverished. And it’s sad and it’s frightening in a way that there are people who are so motivated by their fear of the people around them.

[00:07:30] Signs everywhere say, ‘We welcome our neighbors. We love our neighbors.’ I’m a neighbor, for crying out loud, but because I don’t agree with Ted Coopman politically, all of this hysteria about, ‘We’re Nazis, we’re Republicans, we’re trying to steal this and that.’ Like, you wrote the bylaws, dude.

[00:07:46] John Q: After reviewing that April 11 election meeting, the Jefferson Westside board concluded their bylaws needed work. At the general meeting Sept. 12:

[00:07:56] Ted Coopman (JWN general meeting, Sept. 12, 2023): So, for those of you who were at our April meeting, I think ‘debacle’ may not be too strong in terms of, it was very chaotic, it was very highly disorganized, and there was a lot of contention there, right?

[00:08:10] And so, the way our bylaws were constructed for another time, really obviously weren’t working. There’s no way that we can really have people completely answer all the questions that people have and then vote and then vote serially, which is what the old bylaws had us do.

[00:08:25] So we’d have to vote for chair. And then we’d vote for each individual position all the way down the line. And in two hours, you just really can’t do that.

[00:08:33] And so, we talked with a lot of neighbors and thought about what we wanted to do, and decided to revise the bylaws section on voting, with an eye more towards much more candidates and more towards voters.

[00:08:50] So in the sense that we want to have voters that are fully informed and have time to talk to the neighbors about the different candidates and get that information ahead of time and then be able to come in and vote.

[00:09:01] We also wanted to expand the franchise, which normally you would have to show up to vote. We had kludged together an online attempt to vote using Zoom which took five people and anybody who participated in that had a very unpleasant experience. It was very hard to do.

[00:09:19] John Q: Matie Trewe said experienced volunteers offered to set up online voting, just as in other organizations and neighborhoods, but the board declined. Matie characterized the voting issues as ‘self-inflicted.’ For future elections, JWN took a different path.

[00:09:37] Ted Coopman (JWN general meeting, Sept. 12, 2023): So we decided what we would do is we would have absentee ballots and so you can request a ballot so you don’t have to actually be at the meeting to go ahead and have your vote counted, but we will have voting in person. And then we will know the results of the election on one ballot.

[00:09:52] So that was for transparency to allow neighbors to really think about and talk to each other about the different candidates because we have a candidate information pack, a booklet, voter guide, that’s part of this. So you can get a voter guide ahead of time.

[00:10:07] And so, we decided we needed to do a better democratic process. And I just wanted to add that through our nomination process with the nominating committee, anybody who’s a member who can vote can be nominated and be on the ballot. So there’s no restrictions on that at all.

[00:10:25] You just need to make that decision about a month ahead of time that you want to go ahead and answer some questions, and then all that information in your bio goes to the voter guide that goes out to all the different, via all our different media, and it’s on the website.

[00:10:38] And then you either can request an absentee ballot and drop it off, or you can show up in person and vote, and so that’s your option.

[00:10:48] John Q: Thirty-some neighbors unanimously approved the changes Sept. 12. Speaking in October:

[00:10:55] Ted Coopman (Jefferson Westside Neighbors): We thought about it a lot conceptually, so people can vote remotely: How would we do that? We don’t have an office or a physical location or anything, so we’re going to have to come up with a place where people can drop it off.

[00:11:07] And so we decided that really to vote, to participate, should require a certain degree of intentionality. And that is, ‘Hey, I can’t be there, send me a ballot,’ and that the ballot would be set up as a secure ballot in the sense that I would send you a PDF, it would have a number on it, and then you just fill it out, print it out, and bring it in.

[00:11:29] The physicality is, with elections that’s the best record to keep, is physicality (not that it’s a big deal with the neighborhood association). And then that people would need to file ahead of time and answer some basic questions because we have basic kind of boilerplate questions. People, everybody asks, ‘Why do you want to be on the neighborhood association board?’ Those kind of things.

[00:11:50] And then also give people an opportunity for some biographical information or say, ‘I want to join the board because of’ whatever and make a statement. And then we just send it out as a PDF and post it on the website that people can read it ahead of time. And that way, when we have the actual meeting, we would have collected any absentee ballots. People can vote in person and it would just be one ballot. Now that’s going to create some problems as far as people who are—that maybe you have two really good people who are running for chair and one loses, then they’re not on the board.

[00:12:22] But what we decided was that, it really comes down to, there are other ways to participate in the neighborhood association.

[00:12:29] John Q: And as one of the ‘JWN for Everyone’ candidates pointed out, it’s possible to contribute to the neighborhood outside of the neighborhood association. At the April 11 meeting:

[00:12:40] Anya Dobrowolski: There are so many other places to organize in our community.

[00:12:43] John Q: Anya, Matie, and others are working on a community garden, featured this month in Eugene Weekly, and co-op housing.

[00:12:51] Matie Trewe: A lot of us have been working on the efforts to develop co-op housing for a group of housing-insecure individuals. And it looks like that’s going to happen, but it’s going to be outside of JWN.

[00:13:00] The community gardens, basically, we got tired of asking permission and nobody wanted to take responsible for that little patch of weeds and we just did it and started a food garden, with entirely donated materials, entirely donated labor. And the food’s there for whoever, whoever needs it, whoever in the neighborhood, whether you’re food-insecure, whether you just see something that looks like you want to cook it for dinner, it’s just there for everybody, no limits.

[00:13:26] Ted Coopman (Jefferson Westside Neighbors): You know, neighborhood associations are infrastructures for action. And so we maintain the infrastructure and do our stuff and then based on interest or need, people kind of float in and they need stuff and then a lot of times they don’t get it or they do get it, or you say, ‘Go talk to so-and-so,’ and you never hear from them again.

[00:13:43] And that’s fine. We don’t mind that. We’re happy to help people. We’ve notched the wins, but that is mostly stuff that you negotiate with the staff, staff-level things. Like, we just had a big thing about Lincoln School Park, and we got them to change course on some stuff that they were going to do.

[00:14:02] Parks is easy to work with; Public Works, actually, we got traffic calming on West 8th, which we got to jump the queue because we argued, I’m like, ‘You’re going to be tearing it up anyway, you might as well put in the speed pillows.’ But you have to know that you need to get a traffic analysis ahead of time. And I can ask for a crosswalk or stop sign, but you need to know that these are going to have three criteria, and if you don’t hit all three, you don’t get it.

[00:14:27] And so it’s that level of expertise and then, being proactive with the city. Actually, did you see where they want to put a dog park in at Washington Jefferson Park? They talked about it and they did a survey and they’re going to put it in right at that corner. The south end, it’s going to be big. And it’s going to be fenced. And so we are thinking about that. And then I emailed the chair of Whiteaker and I’m like, ‘Hey, Margaret, we should organize on that because if we get both neighborhood associations on there, we could get some extra amenities,’ and she seems down with it. So that would be a fun thing.

[00:15:02] We’ve got a good hard-headed core group of gearheads that are, you know, in terms of policy and land use and stuff like that. It’s so funny to watch like EWEB or someone come in and they’ll give like this super complex data dump and then someone will raise their hand, and it’s like, ‘How are you calculating stream flows into that, you know, whatever?’ So really obscure, and the guy’s like, ‘I’m going to have to check on that.’ So it’s a good group. It’s a good group. They asked some hard questions for LTD last Tuesday.

[00:15:30] I’m like, ‘God, man, we’ve got a great board.’ They just did it. I mean, it was really, really thoughtful. And that idea of that physicality. How can we be physical? How can we not be disruptive with the technology, but how can we expand enfranchisement to people to vote? And so I thought that we made a pretty good stab at it. I’m pretty happy with those bylaws.

[00:15:54] John Q: The new bylaws may get a robust testing in the next election. On Oct. 11, the city council asked for a work session to discuss a bond to contribute $15 million towards a $100 million stadium in Jefferson Westside. With record homelessness driving higher costs for public safety and public health, the neighborhood is deeply divided.

[00:16:16] Matie Trewe:  Ridiculous. All this taxpayer money and the profits all go to the Elmores. A really controversial issue around here. Far more lawn signs against it than for it.

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