SWNI Doubles Down, Becomes More Opaque


Editor’s Note: A prior version of this article listed Don Baack as being the delegate for the Hillsboro Business Association. He is actually with the Hillsdale Business Association. The article has been updated to reflect this.

I struggled on debating if I wanted to write this article or not for awhile. But as I was gathering clips for other research, I realized this was important enough even outside of my undesired self-insert that the broader public deserved more than a few tweets.

Speaking of Self Insertion

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

Jan Brady, The Brady Bunch

I just want to get this out of the way now. As I was gathering my thoughts to write the article on last weeks Special Session, I wrote a grievance to the SWNI board because of their violation of the rules. I spoke more on the writing of the letter in that article last week.

But in the interest of transparency (something we’ll find SWNI really doesn’t want) here is the letter I sent, with only personal contact information redacted.

Let’s keep everyone in the dark

It’s good to be the king

King Richard, Robin Hood: Men in Tights

The meeting honestly started with a bang, with the chat being completely disabled throughout the entirety of the meeting. Board president Steve Mullinax made it clear that only board members were allowed to speak during the meeting. A bit later, one of the board members moved to allow a public comment section during the tail end of the meeting, which would otherwise have been a complete self-aggrandizing event while observers watched on, mute.

For the most part, the first half of the meeting proceeded as expected, with reports and status updates from board and chair members. The Equity chair, one of the two that we’re particularly focused on, had nothing to report save that they were working on the annual Beaver Festival that takes place in September. Nothing to suggest anything about the equity lens promised to the city in last week’s resolution.

During the treasurer’s report, things got somewhat interesting. SWNI’s Financial Management Policies and Procedures, largely untouched since 2013, in the wake of the Virginia Stromer embezzlement conviction, was voted on for modifications.

Much of the language discussed was of modernizing their policy to allow a new stream of donations from PayPal, as well as a significant new fees that they wanted to pass on to Neighborhood Associations for fiscal sponsorship services. We’re not financial experts, by far, but judging by the list on page 3 of the document, it appeared to be a cost of $100-230 and up for volunteers to support handling the paperwork of managing bank accounts and tax filings for the neighborhoods. A few other things were slipped in that, apparently because they weren’t highlighted, missed the view of some board members.

This became very clear when Mike Charles, representing the Marshall Park neighborhood, questioned an upcoming $4,200 corporate donation, a single donation that was more than all reported income in the prior year. While the Land Use chair Gary Runde said that this was something they weren’t going to say, President Mullinax mention “Benevity” as the source, a third party corporate donation tool. Statements from past sources have suggested that other board members may have used this service, or others like it, in the past to directly fund SWNI to keep it alive and relevant.

We got a significant corporate donation but we don’t know who it’s coming from? That makes me a little uncomfortable.

Mike Charles, Marshall Park Neighborhood Association

It was quickly pointed out that this donor opacity was specifically something that had just been voted for approval minutes before.

The self dealing continued, as at the Hillsdale Business Association delegate, Don Baack, pointed out how in light of the boards continued refusal to contract professional book keeping services (something that could be paid in part through the new dues on neighborhoods for fiscal services and the significant contract awarded to the newspaper editor, that the treasurer should be given a sizeable paycheck to take a vacation in thanks for his work.

His motion was denied, but he promised to bring it up again later, with Crestwood representative Marianne Fitzgerald pointing out that it was now very much allowed to pay volunteers for doing volunteer work:

Once again, we did put in the policy that we could do a sole source [no-bid] contract to the volunteers.

Marianne Fitzgerald, Crestwood Neighborhood Association

After the treasurer’s business finally concluded, President Mullinax opened up new business, his first piece to allow a presentation by Andrew Baker, current president of the Ashcreek association and was planning to run for the SWNI presidency in the upcoming elections. He stated he currently works in Salem as chief of staff for a local politician, research which suggests Senator Jeff Golden (District 3 – Ashland), and he laid out his desires to work with people and help everyone.

He even expressed his desire to put his contact information in the chat, to make it easy for people to reach out to him, where he’d love to sit down with a coffee and answer questions. One tiny problem: Mullinax had disabled the chat. He was invited to send the information to the SWNI board email list, a list that as we reported last week appears to not be working, and would also not get information to the general public.

In vanity, I attempted to ask directly for that contact information, as I would very much like to talk with Mr. Baker. Mullinax refused to recognize me as I wasn’t a board member.

But he was probably already wary of me, as the next order of business was a grievance that was received against the board. While he refused to elaborate on it (something that caused a no and abstention in the voting for the grievance council makeup), the timing makes me almost certain it was mine. The date he said it was filed matched the date I wrote it, and it was received at their office earlier that day.

Vice President Laura Campos was the No vote, with West Portland Park delegate Javier Moncada abstaining, both for the same reason: I don’t know what the grievance is about, so I can’t judge whether the members make sense.

For what it’s worth, Ms. Campos, if it was indeed mine, no one on the council was associated with the ban. But the fact that the person who is supposed to be next in line under the board president not being allowed to know anything … compartmentalization at it’s finest.

Eventually the meeting wound down towards it’s end. The public was given 5 minutes for public comment, the only interaction we were allowed the entire night. A decent portion of it was taken up with board members speaking, but finally I was able to point out that Mr. Baker was never able to give his contact info to the general public (by this time he had left the meeting), and I asked for specific metrics or proof of how fiscal oversight and equity was being addressed. President Mullinax completely ignored the first question, and simply referred me to the resolution voted on the week before. A resolution that had absolutely no proof or metrics, just a written ‘we’ll do better’ claim.

Marie Tyvoll, who was threatened with expulsion last week for questioning my banning, used her moment with the microphone to specifically question if they plan to continue silencing journalists in their work. The explosive encounter between her and Mullinax is below:

At the end of the day, questions of why I was kicked out were ‘inappropriate’, and questions of if other journalists were going to face the same fate were beneath the dignity of even a response. It feels like the organization knows eyes are on them, but leadership is responding by circling the wagons, not being transparent.

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