Citizen's View: I am suing Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. for transparency and accountability for all
I am a former Hillsdale Neighborhood Association president and Southwest Neighborhoods Inc, known as SWNI, board member. I am also a co-plaintiff in a pending lawsuit against SWNI for their refusal to turn over documents in response to my public records request.
The city of Portland provides grants to support civic engagement for 95 neighborhood associations through five independent 501(c)(3) district coalitions and two city staffed offices for geographic representation. SWNI received an aggregate $3.174 million over the last 10 years and the anticipated SWNI grant award for FY20/21 was $297,414 of taxpayer funding, which is 85% of their annual funding. Therefore, SWNI is primarily taxpayer-funded and has been for over 40 years with annual five-year, no-bid contracts.
Board members and several Southwest residents submitted public records requests this year to SWNI for records related to financial oversight and these requests were all denied by SWNI. The Office of Community & Civic Life, the city bureau that oversees and funds district coalitions, also requested records from SWNI. Despite the fact that SWNI is contractually obligated to produce records to Civic Life, SWNI responded by requiring an estimated fee of $30,885.50 from Civic Life to produce these records.
SWNI's consistent response to inquiries from board members with fiduciary oversight responsibilities has been to deny access, delay, and conjure up excessive barriers as exemplified by charging Civic Life over $30,000 to access records. We exhausted all avenues before turning to a lawsuit in July 2020 after SWNI ignored several records requests. To quote from the complaint, "Defendant SWNI has at all relevant times asserted that it is not subject to the Oregon Public Records Act and has refused to complete responses to any of Plaintiffs' requests".
In addition, SWNI's lack of contractual compliance with Civic Life, refusal to comply with required records requests, the misrepresentation of a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan endorsement from Civic Life and more, were some of the concerns that inspired City Council to defund SWNI of their FY20/21 funding and to request that SWNI submit to a forensic audit in July 2020.
Upon the completion of the SWNI forensic audit in November 2020, the auditor noted that "...The root cause of the financial mismanagement was the lack of accountability for financial duties, outdated financial policies and procedures, non-adherence with governing documents, providing incomplete and inadequate records to all Board members, a lack of transparency...".
In summary, the obvious questions we believe need to be asked in the interest of transparency and accountability for the use of taxpayer money: Why is SWNI refusing to be transparent by denying and ignoring public records requests? Why do they refuse to provide board members, taxpayers and the City bureau responsible for SWNI funding and oversight with documents that they are contractually obligated to provide?
What are they hiding? It's unfortunate that I need to bring a lawsuit against SWNI before I can answer that question.
Go to www.swno.net to learn more about SWNI and what you can do to hold SWNI accountable for use of your taxpayer dollars.
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