In July 2019, City Council directed Civic Life to work with the Office of Equity and Human Rights, Bureau of Human Resources, and the City Attorney’s Office to conduct a thorough analysis of current practices and policies for providing stipends to volunteer members of City advisory bodies. The bureaus were directed to present the findings of this analysis and a recommendation for a Citywide policy on stipends for advisory bodies to Council by January 2020.
While City-appointed boards, committees, commissions, and groups all differ in name, task and composition, they all require the time, experience and expertise of community members. Serving on an advisory body can take up a significant amount of members’ time and can require travel or other associated expenses. These demands can create a burden on members and can even create a barrier to participation for current or potential members from marginalized communities.
Establishing a citywide policy to offer stipends to advisory body members values the time of volunteers and is one of many ways that the City of Portland is working to ensure equity and diversity in our processes and outcomes.
Stipends Task Force Initial Findings
The named bureaus were convened by Civic Life as the Stipends Task Force and presented initial findings to City Council in February 2020. The Task Force’s initial considerations were to develop a one-year pilot that would:
- Set baseline eligibility and priorities as determined by City Council
- Develop tracking and disbursement systems with community needs prioritized
- Develop a toolkit for bureaus, advisory bodies and volunteers to better ensure Citywide consistency while maintaining flexibility in implementation
- Invest in the staff, community engagement and systems needed to implement Citywide policy so that all community volunteers can participate equitably across advisory bodies and bureaus
Initial estimates of an up-to-$500 maximum stipend to members serving on nearly 100 City advisory boards and commissions would require additional resources to implement, track, train, and report upon any adopted stipends policy.
During the February 2020 presentation, City Council asked the Task Force to include other considerations in the analysis beyond the original scope. These included a broader examination of the needs of communities to support their participation, and ways to focus the offer of stipends for those members for which stipends remedy an otherwise insurmountable barrier to participation.
The work of the Task Force has been delayed due to the City’s response to the public health state of emergency (beginning March 2020) and calls for racial justice.
Considerations for an Equity-Based Policy
The City of Portland has nearly 100 formal advisory bodies across bureaus. City Council and the Stipends Task Force have prioritized a process that ensures that any adopted policy is thoughtfully created and relevant for all bureaus.
Here are some of the considerations the Task Force and Civic Life are addressing:
Equity amongst bureaus
Bureaus do not have the same staff capacity or budgets. Civic Life is considering how all bureaus can implement the stipends policy regardless of their size, overhead, or general funds. In addition, Civic Life is considering ways to support bureaus that do not have the internal expertise to deliver stipends.
Initial policy recommendations included ensuring that stipends are an available option for all advisory bodies and developing internal systems to have the right paperwork and a payment transaction process which may include a City-administered check payment process. Also proposed was the development of a toolkit to assist bureaus to consistently offer and administer stipends. The toolkit could include but would not be limited to:
- Guidance on recruitment process and participation requirements to better identify and eliminate barriers and encourage advisory-body membership that is diverse in experience
- Guidance to develop and implement a stipend process
- Best practices and risk mitigation steps
Unforeseen and external barriers faced by community volunteers
The City often calls on the same community leaders to serve on multiple committees which results in these members over-committing or burning out. Moving forward, Civic Life is working on a better framework so that the City can recruit and enroll new leaders who may have not considered these volunteer positions in the past due to barriers such as not having the ability to take time away from work to attend meetings, lack of childcare to watch children during the meetings, or not having reliable transportation, among many other barriers.
The initial policy recommendations included soliciting additional community feedback through existing advisory boards and commissions as well as community members that are not currently engaged with City bodies.
Offering protections to volunteers from personal liability
The initial recommendations for a stipend policy included establishing a maximum amount for stipends of up-to $500, in accordance with the Volunteer Protection Act (VPA). The VPA protects volunteers from personal liability if, among other requirements, they do not receive anything of value in lieu of compensation in excess of $500. Offering more than that threshold means volunteers will not benefit from these protections.
The proposed $500 stipend limit includes compensation for transportation, food, childcare and “gifts” (gift cards, tokens of appreciation). Bureau staff and the City of Portland will need to track the stipends provided so there is an accurate accounting of stipends distributed for reporting purposes to individuals, City review and verification, and to comply with federal tax requirements.
Stipends provided to volunteers on behalf of the City through other mechanisms also carry this responsibility. For example, if community-based organizations (CBO) or partners provided the stipend on behalf of the City of Portland, the responsibility is passed on to the CBOs that may or may not have the administrative resources, appropriate liability coverage, or legal support to protect the volunteer in case of legal action. Any arrangement on behalf of the City would need to examine, ensure and provide support for appropriate liability protections.
The Task Force’s Next Steps
This remains a work in progress. We still have work to do before we can return to Council with the next set of policy recommendations, including soliciting additional community input and working with bureau partners on the legal, financial, programmatic and operational needs for a citywide policy. The ongoing impact of the public health and economic recovery has required redirecting the City’s focus to additional urgent matters. Updates to the policy development process will be provided through our website.
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The Office of Community & Civic Life is building stronger communities by supporting and empowering Portlanders. We think, act, and partner with our communities to better understand and take care of their diverse needs. We invite you to join us in this continuous, much needed work to make our communities safer and more welcoming for all.