Should others step down in Urban League fiasco?
There's big trouble over at the Urban League of Portland. The nonprofit group's president, Marcus Mundy, has resigned amid charges that he "racked up $44,000 in charges on the League's credit card that had no documented business purpose" -- reportedly including groceries, a junket to China, a wig, and his children's cell phone bills. So now he's out of a job.
And just in the nick of time. Multnomah County, which provides a lot of the Urban League's funding, is not happy. Last week, it threatened to pull its money from the organization. And although the county is surely gratified to see Mundy hit the road, it's still not satisfied with the Urban League's accounting controls:
County spokesman David Austin said officials would keep looking into the league's finances. "Our position hasn't changed: We need to see by next week what the Urban League's response to these serious fiscal issues will be," he said. "If tight fiscal controls and a serious accounting of the dollars spent are not part of that, then the league's funding could be in jeopardy."
It's not a new story. The organization has a history of fiscal mismanagement, which has led to one executive departure after another. Mundy joins in a tradition. One tidbit that hasn't been reported in the mainstream media: Last year, someone at the Urban League -- probably its outside accountant -- blew the whistle on about $2,000 of questionable credit card spending by Mundy. The board required that he pay it back, and according to the organization's most recent report filed with the IRS, somebody (it could have been Mundy) was assessed a $500 penalty tax on account of the "excess benefit transaction."
But what about the directors of the organization -- don't they also bear responsibility? Charles Wilhoite (above left), Urban League treasurer, and Lolenzo Poe (right), chair of the board -- this happened on their watch. Didn't they know what was going on? If they didn't, why didn't they?
If Wilhoite and Poe were just some good-hearted guys with limited public responsibilities, maybe they'd deserve a pass. But they aren't. In addition to his Urban League board position, Wilhoite is chair of the OHSU board of directors, a commissioner on the Portland Development Commission, and the Sam Rand Twins' appointee as chair of the Portland police bureau budget advisory committee. His day job is apparently as a business appraiser for a national financial analyst firm, but he seems to have a lot of time on his hands to show up as a face card when public money is being spent. For him to be the treasurer of the Urban League at a time like this raises a lot of questions.
Poe is what the unkind among us might refer to as a political hack. He's been on the public payroll for a long time. Currently he works for the Portland Public Schools as a "partnership development director" and "chief equity and diversity officer," at last report making $110,000 a year. Before that he worked for the county as a "senior policy adviser" to former chair Ted Wheeler, after leaving his position as director of the county's "Department of School & Community Partnerships." For eight years he was director of the county Community & Family Services Department, where one of his achievements was sneaking the methadone clinic onto SE Belmont Street without the Buckman neighborhood noticing. Eventually Diane Linn canned him from that gig. Poe was elected unopposed to the Portland school board in 2001, and he was co-chair of the board for a year and a half; he didn't run for re-election in 2005, as we recall. Apparently, he can deliver a lot of votes, and that is doubtlessly a good part of why his is another face of the status quo in local government. But as a manager? Let's put it this way: The Urban League mess does not speak well of him.
The local media tiptoes carefully when it writes about the Urban League, for obvious reasons. But let's hope they don't let the organization's board off the hook too easily. One hopes that the IRS also steps in and takes a good look around.