My view: Our Neighborhoods Deserve Better
For over 40 years, the city of Portland has formally recognized neighborhood associations as the primary taxpayer-funded vehicle for civic engagement and is required by city code to support neighborhood associations. There are seven funded district coalitions for geographic representation and $2.3 million of taxpayer money supports the 95 neighborhood associations annually.
Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. (SWNI) is one of these district coalitions and receives almost $300,000 annually to support 17 Neighborhood and three Business Associations in Southwest Portland. In the last 10 years, SWNI has received a total of $3.174 million in taxpayer dollars.
I am a former SWNI board officer and committee chairperson who worked to effect change for access, accountability and transparency within SWNI to no avail. On July 9, 2020, Portland City Council wisely responded to concerns raised by community and SWNI board members to hold SWNI FY20/21 funding, pending the completion of a forensic audit. The City Council has left it to the next sitting council to decide SWNI funding.
The audit is complete now and the findings are disturbing.
• Current critical monthly financial controls have not been followed as there was a 97% error rate for the month-end financial checklist used by the finance committee, treasurer and executive officers.
• The auditor found that in the last 10 years, SWNI mismanaged $353,597 of taxpayer monies, 7.35% of their base grant funding from Civic Life.
• SWNI's internal controls were found to range from "dysfunctional/ineffective" to "absent/deficient" and "SWNI did not have enough money on hand ... for what was owed to [Neighborhood] Associations in their restricted accounts."
• "SWNI's leadership demonstrated being willfully blind to noncompliance with governance documents, standards and ethics."
• "SWNI's culture and tone from the top, as it appeared SWNI had leaders who were resistive to making equity and inclusion changes and lacked a commitment to implement the drafted [Racial] Equity Policy and Equity and [Inclusion] Best Practices."
• "There was evidence that people involved with SWNI had been "bullied", "attacked", "dismissed", "shut down" and "censored," according to auditors. Those instances were "pathological" and created a "hostile" and "toxic culture."
All neighborhood associations deserve a responsible fiscal sponsor and services to help us engage in our community. There is more information available at www.swno.net
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