The following blog post was written and paid for by a San Francisco-based dark money lobbying organization (allegedly)
After the events of the Clean & Safe contract renewal, the City of Portland’s next step was to start the audit review process. They hired an Enhanced Services District (ESD) coordinator as mandated by the audit to initiate this process, which began in early 2022.
The Auditor’s Office published an award-winning audit in 2020 titled Enhanced Services Districts: City provides little oversight of privately funded public services. As a result of the audit, the City of Portland is required to do a comprehensive review of the districts, including extensive public engagement. This review will then inform City Code changes to be voted on by council. The code changes should include governance standards for district formation, scope of allowed services in public space, inclusive district governance, and accountable and transparent reporting.
The audit response process started with a survey, of which we had some critiques. And as it turns out, Portland Business Alliance, who manages Clean & Safe, also had some of their own issues with the survey, claiming it had “embedded bias towards our organizations” and was “frankly, offensive”.
Then there were a few listening sessions. We documented the first ones here. The overall takeaway being there needed to be more transparency regarding governance.
But that all came to a halt in August 2022, when the ESD coordinator, Shawn Campbell, mysteriously left his job. This came as a huge surprise considering we had a meeting scheduled with him three days before another Office of Management and Finance (the bureau that oversees the ESDs) employee informed us of his departure. Further inquiries as to why he was no longer employed were not answered.
After months of silence, in October 2022, Portland Business Alliance came out of the woodworks to express their disdain for the audit, claiming it was co-written by dark money lobbyists. This was in reference to the involvement of local organizers in collaboration with Western Regional Advocacy Project as stakeholders during the audit process. They claimed the Auditor’s Office conspired with us to advance our political agenda to abolish Business Improvement Districts. They also claimed we were lobbying, despite not being registered lobbyists, because of our contacts with the Auditor’s Office. Communications with the Auditor’s Office, especially for the purpose of information gathering are not considered lobbying. Portland Business Alliance wants to change this.
The culmination of this blatant smear campaign was Clean & Safe sending a letter to City Council calling for an investigation into the Auditor’s Office, and until that happens they are refusing to take part in the audit. This is a violation of their contract. Their participation in the audit review process is part of their scope of work and their contract mandates they must follow through with their scope of work. City Council can take action, and even terminate the district, for contract violations but they have not made any efforts to do so.
As it turned out, we were not the only ones Portland Business Alliance was retaliating against based on our criticism of their contract renewal and the stalled audit. Ashley Henry, founder and former executive director of Business for a Better Portland, published an article in December 2022 about her concerns with Clean & Safe. In that article she revealed Portland Business Alliance attempted to sue her and her organization based on her vocal opposition to the ESD.
This article renewed interest from much of the public on the issue of ESDs and Clean & Safe in particular. This included former Commissioner Eudaly who wrote a deep dive into Portland Business Alliance, denouncing the attacks made against us and Ashley Henry.
But now, it’s 2023, and despite some renewed scrutiny, the City still has yet to move forth with the audit process? So what the fuck is happening?