OSU's citizen program inspires tomorrow's community leaders

November 9, 2004

BEAVERTON - A Citizen Participation Program in Washington County has achieved an unusual success in empowering the public to try to make things better - everything from solving neighborhood squabbles to the well-planned siting of cell phone towers.

This program, run by the Washington County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service, since 1975 has given citizens unique opportunities to participate in rural and urban issues.

For many people, Washington County's CPO is a place to begin when neighbors decide there is a problem in their neighborhood - such as needing a stop sign on a corner or widening a road, explained Linda Gray, OSU's Washington County Extension CPO coordinator. If a person decides there is a problem and needs others to understand her opinion, the CPO program can help put people in contact with decision-makers in a less than formal setting to find a solution.

"If they come to us with a concern, they don't just file a complaint - they pick the issue up and take it on," said Gray.

For example, when cell phone companies wanted to site multiple towers in the county over the last three years, a group of citizens used the CPO program to learn from other community experiences with cell towers and then recommend changes to the Washington County's land development code on cell towers. During that time, two ordinances have been created to modify the code to ensure the best management of these facilities.

"People take a leadership role and learn how to facilitate meetings, testify, learn how government works, and how to impact policy," says Gray. "Once citizens understand how government works, they can move into a planning commission role, or even run for office. In that way, it becomes a stepping stone to a career for some people."

Covering both rural and urban issues, the CPO program maintains an open and neutral line of information so that people who attend a CPO meeting or event can make up their own minds when walking out the door.

"Being associated with OSU, people trust that we give unbiased information. If we have a controversial topic, both sides are presented and reliable information is provided," Gray said.

Gray says that in her program, citizens not only have the opportunity but are inspired to want to make a difference in their community.

All residents and business owners in Washington County and unincorporated areas are welcome and encouraged to participate in one of the 15 regional CPOs in the county. The Washington county office of the OSU Extension Service is the only such office in the state of Oregon to offer a CPO program, she said.

"If people choose to get involved, they can come to a CPO meeting and learn how to get things done," she said.

More information about topics and regional meeting times is available at the Citizen Participation Organization website at http://www.co.washington.or.us/cao/cpo/.

Additional information about these programs will also be available in forthcoming Washington County tax statements.

Author: Virginia Gewin
Source: Linda Gray