Lore Wintergreen, East Portland Action Plan Advocate and city employee, allegedly accused at least one volunteer board
member of racism for requiring EPAP grantees to fill out IRS forms
Publisher’s note: Over the years, the Memo has spoken to many highly cynical individuals who have been involved with the East Portland Neighborhood Office system. There’s a way the system is supposed to work, and then there’s the way it actually works. If you haven’t had any interaction with the city-run system, it’s easy to believe everything happens the way it’s supposed to. The minute you get a taste of it—the minute squatters move in next door; the minute a development threatens your livability; the minute speeders nearly run your kids over; the minute a strip club opens on your street—you see the system close up, and you may see it in a completely different way. This is not to say neighbors’ problems aren’t ameliorated. In time, some are. You just understand the way the system actually works in east Portland, and how much it differs from the way it is supposed to work in theory.
To some readers, the incident described in this article might seem trivial, but it’s an example and symptom of the East Portland Neighborhood Office’s systemic problems—problems which make it less effective at bringing needed infrastructure improvements to east Portland neighborhoods and less relevant to the overall community it was meant to serve.
If volunteers who try to follow the law, doing what they believe, and have been told what they’re supposed to do, are bullied, intimidated, and even accused of racism, how long before those citizen volunteers refuse to continue to serve?
The following incident is one example of why the city’s neighborhood association system in east Portland becomes less effective every year. Furthermore, as it becomes more and more removed from the original intention of representing every individual in the neighborhood, the system devolves to representing small groups, individuals and their pet projects. While the infighting ensues, east Portland neighborhoods crumble.
Kathi Holmes had had enough. The vote to scrub the minutes was the last straw for the longtime neighborhood association volunteer; after more than a dozen years with the East Portland Neighbors, Inc., October 2014 was Kathi Holmes’ last EPN board meeting. After the meeting, Holmes submitted her resignation as treasurer of the group. According to Holmes, EPN may be paying East Portland Action Plan grantees that either crossed the border illegally or are unauthorized immigrants. “I resigned over that issue,” Holmes said in one of two telephone interviews.
Since 2001, Holmes was EPN’s designated representative from the Wilkes Community Group—the officially recognized neighborhood association on Gresham’s border in outer Northeast Portland—to the EPN board. In addition, she was EPN’s treasurer. The nonprofit group acts as fiscal sponsor for the 13 officially recognized neighborhood associations administered by the city’s East Portland Neighborhood Office (EPNO). EPN writes the checks for neighborhood association grant activities and individuals’ expense reimbursements for grant work.
Moreover, EPN acts as fiscal agent for some East Portland Action Plan grants. As EPAP’s advocate, Lore Wintergreen operates autonomously, parallel to EPNO’s neighborhood associations’ administration.
In November, Holmes resigned from the EPN board altogether. “I’m going to stick to my neighborhood,” she said. “We have enough problems.”
According to the board meeting’s original minutes, community organizer Wintergreen accused the EPN board of racism and discriminatory practices by requiring EPAP grantees to fill out a W-9 for any expenditure, not just those above $600, as the IRS requires.
From the June 18, 2014 EPN meeting minutes taken by Alesia Reese: “Lore Wintergreen, Director of East Portland Action Plan, spoke to the challenges for volunteers to provide EINs and SSNs for payment of services. EPN, as the fiscal sponsor of projects, discriminates against people who do not have this information. The Board’s actions are racist. Ms. Wintergreen informed the Board that if the W-9 policy was adopted, East Portland Action Plan Board would not refer participants, projects or programs to EPN for fiscal sponsorship. She referenced the EPAP Board’s position as in opposition to the EPN Board’s W-9 policy.”
Is filling out a W-9 unusual?
The W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) and Certification is one of the IRS’ most commonly used forms. Generally, the TIN is your social security number, unless you fill it out as a business or corporation, in which case it’s called an Employer Identification Number (EIN).
If you can’t fill out a W-9, there’s a good chance you don’t have a SSN, either because you entered the country illegally or overstayed your visa. In some cases it also may mean that the recipient is trying to evade paying taxes.
The discussion whether to require W-9s for any expenditure to individuals that act as grant personnel has been going on for more than a year, according to EPN board members who spoke to the Memo. The grants in question are primarily going to Spanish-speaking individuals to organize east Portland Latinos, brief them on their rights as residents, issue Mexican consular cards to those without identification and solicit community policing assistance.
Even after Holmes showed Wintergreen the law, she still accused Holmes of discrimination. “If you’re a good citizen,” Holmes said, “shouldn’t you follow the laws of your government?” To Holmes, it wasn’t an issue of who the people were, it was what the people were doing and what Holmes had been asked to do in her role as treasurer.
When the issue finally came up for a vote at the June 2014 meeting, the minutes say Wintergreen threatened EPN board members who did not agree with her position that she would pack up her grants and go home, so to speak.
Questioning Wintergreen’s grantees’ refusal to fill out W-9s caused her outburst at the meeting, according to Holmes.
However, at the October meeting, by a vote of 4-2 with one abstention, June’s minutes were changed to read: “There were public comments made.” Therefore, officially, Wintergreen did not say what the minutes said she said. It’s as if it never happened. In effect, it is a possible cover-up or rewrite of history.
“This is taxpayers’ money,” Holmes said. “You have to know who you’re paying—all I was doing was trying to follow the law.” She added, “They [EPAP] wouldn’t give a W-9 for several people [EPAP grantees]; according to immigration law, you can’t pay undocumented workers zip, nothing.”
Holmes said she did not want to sign documents containing falsehoods and felt forced into signing EPN’s 2013 financial statement.
Furthermore, Holmes said she felt intimidated by fellow EPN board members over the issue to drop it. “They didn’t take the issue seriously,” she said. “I felt bullied by several people on the board. ‘Don’t you ever break a law?’ they’d ask me.”
One of the EPN board members that Holmes said bullied her was David Hampsten, a large, imposing man who admits to being a bully, but only for east Portland transportation issues. “I bully transportation officials to get improvements in east Portland,” Hampsten said in a telephone interview. “If I bullied someone [at EPN], I have no recollection, and no one told me I did, so how would I know if I did?”
Hampsten—EPN’s financial secretary since 2009—said Holmes was negligent in her treasurer duties because she did not collect W-9 information. “Our previous treasurer was so negligent she never actually contacted them [grant service providers] to get the forms filled out.” This criticism further supports the reasonableness of Holmes’ request that W-9s be provided by Wintergreen.
Hampsten admits the word “racist” was used at the June 2014 meeting, and while he doesn’t know who used it, he’s sure it wasn’t Wintergreen. “Lore Wintergreen did not say anyone was racist,” Hampsten said. Because there were so many people in the room speaking at once, Hampsten could not say who used the word, but he heard it.
“There were 15 people in the room [12, according to the minutes],” Hampsten added. “The person who wrote the minutes [Alesia Reese] was not necessarily an impartial minute taker,” Hampsten said.
Furthermore, he said that even though he disagrees and voted against the policy change, he enforces the board’s will.
Who’s talking and who’s not?
EPAP co-chair Arlene Kimura—technically Wintergreen’s volunteer civilian boss—did not respond to phone calls. However, in an email, Kimura said, “As I am close to 70, I tend to forget things or the order of things, and my hearing may be less than complete,” despite regularly leading meetings.
One of the questions posed to both Kimura and Wintergreen that neither deigned to answer was “Why is it discriminatory and racist to ask someone to fill out a W-9?”
Seven of the 10 EPN board members at the disputed meeting talked to the Memo. Depending on whom you talk to, Wintergreen either said it or didn’t, or she was following Kimura’s orders to tell EPN members that they are racist and discriminatory—or they hung up the phone when the Memo asked them about that part of the meeting.
Wintergreen declined to be interviewed for this story. She would not take phone calls, but in reply to an email from the Memo, she said, “Should you choose to pursue collecting this information further, you are welcome to complete a formal public records request.”
Initially, Alesia Reese, the meeting’s minute taker, also declined an interview.
Another longtime EPN board member (2003), officer of the group and its current president, Reese took the June 2014 meeting’s minutes and did not respond to more than a half-dozen phone messages or answer the same number of email requests for comment until the Memo caught up with her at a recent EPN meeting. Asked who called whom a racist at the June meeting, Reese said, “There was a conflict.” She added, “Those minutes were not approved, they were modified.” Pressed whether Wintergreen accused Holmes of racism as she recorded in her original minutes, Reese was unable to recall. “I have had how many meetings since then?” she said. “I would have to recollect some.” Asked how many meetings she attends where people accuse each other of racism, she said it happens “infrequently.” Adding, “Because those minutes were under review for a long time, other people heard differently; the board did not accept the minutes as written. Let’s just say that.”
Publisher’s note: What did I learn? After more than a decade Kathi Holmes, a dedicated, unpaid citizen volunteer, called it quits. Criticized by at least one EPN Board Member for not obtaining W-9 forms, she appears to have taken a verbal beating for conscientiously doing her job by attempting to obtain them. A salaried city employee may or may not have strongly bullied her and refused to provide the requested (and Holmes believes required) information. The city may be not only paying illegal aliens for work, but also their very hiring could be considered illegal. Were racist comments made, and if so, by whom? It is difficult to discern, as others in the room appear to have memory issues.
What is clear is the record of the meeting was changed, four months after the incident, and those with the acknowledged faulty memories voted to change that record. Was the record wrong and corrected? Was it corrected and “Watergated”? We’ll never know. What we do know is this is no way to run an organization.