Washington County cultural groups get relief funds at last minute
In a last-minute move, officials at the Oregon Cultural Trust (OCT) and the Clackamas County Cultural Coalition solidified a solution to allow cultural arts organizations in Washington County to receive more than $1.6 million in coronavirus relief grants.
Last week, a bureaucratic impasse between the Cultural Coalition of Washington County, which is overseen by the county Board of Commissioners, and OCT appeared to prevent 32 Washington County nonprofits from receiving much-needed grants.
The Cultural Coalition of Washington County previously declined to distribute the grants, but on Tuesday morning, Sept. 29, OCT announced that the Clackamas County Cultural Coalition agreed to serve as the subcontractor for grants allocated to groups in Washington County.
"We're glad that the Clackamas County coalition is able to make this happen," said Brian Rogers, director of OCT, on Tuesday. "As soon as I sent out the notification yesterday to the 32 organizations, my inbox lit up with a lot of 'thank-yous' and 'this is a huge relief' and 'this is greatly appreciated, please send our deepest thanks to the Clackamas County coalition.'"
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, OCT announced it would provide nearly $26 million in coronavirus relief grants from the state's distribution of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to 621 cultural arts organizations across Oregon.
The organizations, including theaters, museums and tribal groups, provide valuable cultural resources but have suffered during the pandemic due to lost revenue and event cancellations.
But each of the more than 30 Washington County nonprofits, including Centro Cultural de Washington County, Hillsboro Symphony Orchestra and many others, who applied to receive grants from OCT were absent from the initial list of recipients.
The impasse came down to a tight timing issue.
The Cultural Coalition of Washington County declined to distribute the grants after county officials were unable to review a contract with OCT before the county Board of Commissioners needed to make a decision about whether to accept the funds. By a Sept. 15 board meeting, the county still didn't have a contract to review, and the deadline to distribute the funds was Sept. 30.
County officials said they never received adequate clarity from state attorneys about who would be liable if organizations that received funds had actually been ineligible to receive them or if they misspent the money. The county feared it would be liable to repay funds if a federal audit showed they were misused.
OCT, not the county, vetted the eligibility of the nonprofits to receive the funds.
All but six cultural coalitions in the state responsible for distributing OCT funds operate independently from county governments. Washington, Lake, Morrow, Crook, Klamath and Benton counties are the only places with cultural coalitions that are overseen by the county governments, which have extensive oversight for how they use federal funds.
Washington County was the only county, however, to decline to accept the funds.
Rogers said he and his colleagues worked tirelessly to come up with a solution to get the Washington County nonprofits the grants another way, and the Clackamas County Cultural Coalition pulled through.
"They've always been a wonderful partner and we're thankful for their help," Rogers said.
Katinka Bryk, chair of the Clackamas County Cultural Coalition, was not immediately available to comment Tuesday morning.
Lisa Tattersall, manager of Washington County Cooperative Library Services, which houses the 12-member, county-appointed Cultural Coalition of Washington County, said Tuesday she was thankful to OCT and the Clackamas County Cultural Coalition for working together to get Washington County nonprofits the funds.
"We heard the news late yesterday afternoon," Tattersall said. "Obviously, we're thrilled, and our commissioners are very pleased that the OCT was able to come up with a solution that we had been asking for — just another way to make this work."
Tattersall said although the county's position that it needed contractual clarity on its liabilities before deciding to distribute the funds hasn't changed, officials may discuss restructuring the Cultural Coalition of Washington County to avoid such issues in the future.
"We'll be going back to the board to talk about if there's a different way to structure the Cultural Coalition of Washington County so we don't run into this again," Tattersall said.
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