Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another May 18 Anniversary

For many of us in this community, May 18, which famously marks the day of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, is the anniversary of another astonishing, if lesser, event.

Five years ago, in what is fast becoming a footnote to local lore, a large group of us successfully challenged one Pamella Settlegoode’s presidency of the Southwest Hills Residential League (SWHRL).

Settlegoode, with the legal advice of her then-husband, attorney Bill Goode, had mustered a compliant SWHRL board to sue the city over a boundary dispute with our Hillsdale neighborhood.

For reasons that will become clear, we had been unable to negotiate a resolution with Settlegoode.

So we chose to challenge her leadership at SWHRL’s annual meeting on May 18, 2005. Because many of us in Hillsdale lived in an overlapping area with SWHRL, we hastily joined the league, voted in large numbers at its annual meeting and defeated Settlegoode and most of her supporters.

Our own candidate, Jim Thayer, was installed as president and has served admirably for the past five years. (Thank you, Jim.)

Astonishingly, the very day after the vote, Settlegoode and Goode organized a lawsuit against the new board. The suit had an immediate “chilling effect” on those of us on the new board. Some, worried about legal costs, resigned. Fortunately, the Miller, Nash law firm and one of its attorneys, Bruce Rubin, came to our rescue, defending us pro bono. (Thank you, Bruce.)

One month later, the Settlegoode-initiated case was summarily thrown out under a state statute that prohibits suits seeking to punish the public for simply participating in the civic process.

As they say, justice prevailed.

In the months that followed, the new SWHRL board, working with neighboring boards, sorted out the boundaries by getting rid of the contentious overlaps. SWHRL now lives happily with Hillsdale, Bridlemile and Homestead as fully separate neighbors.

Settlegoode was a whirlwind of contention even in support of righteous causes. And often her causes were indeed righteous, as I had occasion to tell her. The problem — and I had occasion to tell her this too — was that she had serious problems with resolving issues amicably. She was objectionable in her objections. She chose confrontation and litigation over comity and cooperation.

(Significantly, suing had previously worked for and may have emboldened her. She managed to win a long legal battle with the Portland School District and walk away with a $1 million settlement.)

I lost track of Pamella after her final day in court five years ago. In the intervening years, I’d heard that she had divorced and moved to Florida, her native state. Then recently, her name came up in a conversation with an acquaintance.

“Settlegoode...Settlegoode...that name sounds familiar,” he ruminated. “I have a sister in St. Petersburg who mentioned someone running for the school board there with a name like that....”

I did a Google search, and sure enough, Pamella had run last fall, not for the school board, but for the City Council.

She’d sunk her teeth into local issues that only someone living in St. Petersburg could understand or care about. In November, St. Petersburg voters, with no knowledge of our experience in Southwest Portland, soundly defeated her at the polls.

My on-line search turned up nothing about post-election lawsuits. I take this as a small sign of progress.

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