Over forty individuals make up the Mt. Tabor Central Yard and Nursery Planning Group. Though responsibilities and expertise vary among each member, three distinct interests are represented: PPR management, employees and union members of the yard and nursery, and the community.

Portland Parks and Recreation

PPR is a large organization made up of four separate departments (Figure 6.1). Three of the four departments are represented in the Mt Tabor Steering Group – the divisions made up of employees and management of the maintenance services, staff from City Nature and staff from Workforce and Community Alliances. Though the Strategy, Finance and Business Development unit does not have physical representation on the committee, the group will be kept informed on the progress of the planning group primarily via PPR Services and City Nature, the two departments most impacted by this project.

PPR Services

This department manages the extensive day-to-day maintenance of Portland’s parks, gardens and facilities, as well as the operation and recreational programming of all community centers and swimming pools. The workforce is made up of administrators who work downtown at the Portland Building, as well as approximately 100 permanent staff members based at Mt Tabor Yard in a variety of subunits, including carpenters, welders, mechanics, equipment and more. PPR’s Services manager is involved with the planning group, and was also part of the initial mediation effort between Parks and the community.

City Nature

This department manages the maintenance and stewardship of Portland’s natural areas, as well as urban forestry, trails, environmental education and outreach, volunteers and the PPR plant nursery. There are a total of 45 City Nature staff positions, which include botanic specialists and technicians, tree inspectors and horticulturists, of which two are on the committee. The manager of City Nature is a member of the planning group.

Strategy, Finance & Business Development

This department manages the business and financial functions of PPR, including asset management, property management, strategic planning, policy, performance management, parks and recreation planning project management, landscape and architectural design and construction, marketing and business development, financial planning and budget development, golf and Portland International Raceway. This department holds approximately 80 staff positions located downtown. Because this branch deals with strategic development and because it has been involved in past plans for the maintenance yard, its absence on the planning group is glaring.

Portland Parks and Recreation organizational flowchart (as of 3/18/08)

Figure 6.1: Portland Parks and Recreation organizational flowchart (as of 3/18/08)

Workforce and Community Alliances

This department manages the vibrant human and community connections of PPR: volunteer services, workforce training and development, human resources coordination, administrative support, permitting and reservations, park safety and security, sports programs, cultural outreach and teen services and Community Gardens. Of the 75 staff positions associated with Workforce and Community Alliances, the Community Garden support staff is located at Mt. Tabor. A representative from Community Gardens is on the planning group.

Central Yard Maintenance Facilities

The four departments manage a current staff of over 130 employees based at the Mt. Tabor Central Maintenance Yard and Nursery. Servicing all of Portland, the yard serves as the central dispatch center and central work area for park maintenance activities, supports district offices, and provides specialized technical support.

An excerpt from PPR’s 1999 Maintenance Facilities Plan, distributed to each member of the planning group, details the organization of the yard. Responsibilities are broken into eight different work units, but are interdependent of each other:

Turf Maintenance: Mows, seeds, fertilizes, aerates and removes leaves throughout the system, manages and funds the central yard machine shop, and provides year-round support to all work units in the yard. In addition to their Park’s duties, Turf Maintenance contracts its serves to other city agencies.

Equipment Services: Provides and maintains heavy equipment and operators for backhoeing, hauling, paving and grading; takes care of most vehicle and equipment maintenance, welding, underground water lines and major renovations to grounds, golf courses and ballfields. Manages irrigation services, including sewer drainage systems, and locates underground utility systems on 24-hour notice. In addition, the unit handles the fuel station in the yard, which constantly brings non-maintenance vehicles through the yard, as it is used as a citywide facility.

Structures: Maintains park buildings, pools, and outdoor structures, such as play equipment, fountains, benches, tables, etc. Trades include carpenters, electricians, painters, plumbers and maintenance mechanics.

Horticulture Services: Supplies plant materials, provides specialized training and services in Integrated Pest Management, re-vegetates natural areas with native species, maintains special planting areas in downtown transit mall and light rail corridors, maintains many street medians and other city bureau properties through interagency agreements. Includes the Community Gardens program, which provides gardening opportunities and education at over 30 sites throughout the city.

Horticultural Services is among the largest tenants in the Central Maintenance Yard with large tracts of land and major buildings dedicated to cultivation.

Athletic Field Services: Maintains sports fields and all associated goals, bases, backstops, and fences throughout the system. Handles turf-care, field cleaning, and the small-scale mowing that Turf Maintenance cannot reach.

Districts: Supports and coordinates the six district offices located throughout the city, including the maintenance of Portland’s specialty rose gardens.

Operations Support: Provides accounting, computer, and clerical support to the work units located at the Central Maintenance Yard and the District offices. Manages technical engineering support for drawings and maps of all parks, utility locates, and capital project management.

Stores: Handles inventories, dispenses supplies, provides processing, and accounting with purchase orders (City of Portland, 1999, June, p. 6).

Labor Unions

Employees and union members of Laborer’s Local 483 have had a consistent presence in the mediation and master plan update process. With a nationwide presence, the union works on behalf of their members in their collective bargaining efforts, encouraging strong pay, good benefits, and safe working environments.

Employees have brought first hand accounts of the dilapidated environment of the maintenance facilities, as well as their expertise in efficiently maintaining all aspects of the city’s parks. Many members have been with PPR and stationed out of the maintenance yard for 20 to 30 years; one member is a third generation maintenance employee, and made mention that his daughter is interested in a career at the yard. Their voice is vital to this process, and both the community and the various departments of PPR hold the guidance and recommendations of the maintenance workers in high regard.

The Community

Community representatives make up nearly 75% of the membership of the planning group. Five neighborhoods, several architectural and landscaping design firms, and a handful of small-business owners are represented. Two independent filmmakers are on the committee, as are several professional photographers. Academia is well represented among the group, including myself with my master’s project dealing with community engagement, a doctoral student researching public involvement, and one professor of urban design.

Time spent in nature is a frequently mentioned pastime for members. Bio’s provided by each participant frequently highlight time spent outdoors as being important, coming from gardeners, hikers, hunters, snowboarders, birdwatchers, and “self-proclaimed tree-huggers”.

Finally, over half of the community has experience, either personally or professionally, in horticulture and/or botany. This richness comes from the community’s interest in the City’s plans for the nursery, its Horticulture Services division, and the Community Gardens.


Administering the needs of this diverse group would need to be managed from several angles. Facilitation would be needed to direct discussions at the scheduled planning group meetings and community outreach events that would occur at key points in the process. Additionally, the day-to-day responsibilities, such as scheduling, budgets, and communication, needed to be coordinated on an on-going basis. Responsibilities would be divvied up between two teams: third party facilitators and project managers.

Group Facilitators

One of the recommendations that the community made to Council when asking for their support in this planning process was that professional facilitators would oversee the collaborative effort. Having a facilitator involved in the mediation process between PPR and the community proved invaluable for clarifying stances and finding common ground, and the same result was wanted moving forward.

In December of 2007, several citizens from the mediation group joined PPR in distributing an RFP and interviewing interested consultants. I was involved with the selection committee and my observation of the process was that it was disjointed. Due to laws and regulations, such as Equal Employment Opportunity, the City has a step-by-step process that it follows to maintain fairness and produce quantifiable justification for its decision. It follows the law, which is understandable and admirable, but the bureaucracy caused frustration among the citizen members unfamiliar with the system.

Thankfully, the committee pushed ahead and chose a facilitator that would help remedy situations such as this. After narrowing down the number of interested firms to five, the group invited two back for a second interview, and then awarded its facilitator contract to Jamie Damon of Jeanne Lawson Associates, Inc. and Mary Forst.

The committee’s selection of Damon and Forst was due in part to the duo’s extensive history of facilitation. Forst is a mediator, facilitator and trainer who specializes in facilitating consensus processes in community and public policy issues involving government agencies, communities, business groups and individuals. Since 1988 she has worked with a variety of public, private and non-profit organizations across the region and nation. Damon has worked as a facilitator with individuals, citizens groups and local and state government agencies to make decisions collaboratively on neighborhood and public policy issues since 1986.

Aside from Damon and Forst’s experience, the other factor that weighed heavily in the choice was the two’s familiarity with the circumstances, as the two served as mediators for the community and PPR over the disputed sale of public land. The successful outcome of that project, combined with their ability to be up-to-speed on day one of the re-design process, made them a valuable asset to the undertaking.

Mt. Tabor Central Yard & Nursery Planning Group organizational flowchart.

Figure 6.3: Mt. Tabor Central Yard & Nursery Planning Group organizational flowchart.

Project Managers

Responsibility of the day-to-day operations of the planning group’s actions fell to the project and assistant project managers. As was the case with the selection of the group facilitators, mediation team members were able to take part in reviewing resumes and interviewing selected applicants. The ideal candidate would be comfortable filling the following duties:

  • Responsibility for overall project leadership, implementation, and coordination.

  • Supervise all aspects of the project including technical work, public involvement, and planning;

  • Serve as the principal contact for the committee;

  • Attends all meetings of the project committee and sub-committees;

  • Represents PPR at public events, city council, meetings, open houses, and other occasions as necessary;

  • Supervise the work of all project consultants;

  • Ensure that the project meets its schedule and budget;

  • Resolve issues as they arise, or work with others to ensure that the project continues to be on schedule and on budget.

It was a common joke among the mediation team that whoever was foolish enough to apply for the job wouldn’t be qualified because they were a fool. The responsibilities, coupled with working with citizens that weren’t afraid to admit that they were rabble-rousers, seemed like a recipe for disaster.

To steer the planning group away from catastrophe, Jon Makler and Maija Spencer were hired exclusively to oversee the update of the Mt. Tabor master plan. Exclusively is key to their hiring because it means other departments, projects, or edicts from the mayor couldn’t pull them away from this project. The community cherished this guarantee because past dealings with the City had citizens constantly fighting for attention, jockeying against dozens of priorities.

Both project managers were hired from within the City, which the group agreed was a desired background to have so that there would be little to no learning curve on how to navigate the City’s system. Makler came from the City’s Office of Transportation, where he was assigned to work with Metro in the regional planning department improving infrastructure performance. Spencer spent two and a half years in the City’s Office of Management & Finance.

The organizational chart for the Mt. Tabor Planning Group mimics the one produced by PPR (Figure 6.2), though it is differs substantially as it portrays the “power” coming from both sides of the table. The typical organizational chart, such as the one put together from PPR, has the inherent flaw of painting an organization as only having strength at the top, relegating the full workforce as underlings and not part of the leadership.

One comment I happened to overhear emanating from yard employees as we were reviewing PPR’s organization is typical of the feeling these charts can produce: “Are we on the org chart?” one man asked under his breath. Another man responded, “we’re not important enough to make it on this chart.”