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About Willamette week. (Portland, Or.) 1974-current | View This Issue
A MISSED DEADLINE PLACES MULTNOMAH COUNTY IN A
POLITICAL BIND AMID ALLEGATIONS OF RACISM.
BY KAT IE SHEP HERD
k s h e p h e rd @ wwe e k .co m
Multnomah County is in a diffi cult position.
The controversial firing of Tricia Tilliman,
until recently the county’s director of public
health, prompted employees last month to step
forward with accusations of institutional racism
targeted at black workers. County Chairwoman
Deborah Kafoury committed to countywide
reforms and implored voters to hold county offi -
cials accountable for treating everyone equally.
At the same time, the contractor that provides
the bulk of county services for black seniors
living in Portland failed to turn in a proposal to
continue providing those services, leaving Mult-
nomah County without any applicants to carry
on programs the county says it wants to expand.
The county says its longtime partner, the
Urban League of Portland, missed a deadline for
proposals by two minutes on June 28.
In bold type at the top of the first page, the
instructions for bidders declared: “Proposals
Due: June 28, 2017 not later than 4:00 pm.” In all
capital letters, it emphasized, “LATE PROPOS-
ALS SHALL NOT BE CONSIDERED.”
A county official says it’s rare for bidders to
show up late.
“It’s pretty unusual,” says Erin Grahek, com-
munity services manager for the Aging, Dis-
abilities and Veterans Services Division of the
Department of County Human Services. “We
tell proposers: ‘This is the deadline. It must be in
by this date. Please pay attention to day of week.
Allow for traffi c. Don’t forget.’ Nobody [else] that
I’m aware of missed the deadline.”
No one else applied to provide the culturally
specifi c services to African-American seniors—
including transportation assistance, community
activities and case management—that the Urban
League has provided for years.
“They’ve been a valuable partnership to
us and make sure we’re providing equitable
services,” Grahek says. “We want to maintain
The missed deadline also raises questions
because the Urban League’s record with county
funds is uneven. The county promised in late
2011 to keep a closer eye on the organization
after a financial scandal revealed that the non-
profit’s then-president, Marcus Mundy, could
not account for more than $44,000 spent using
the organization’s credit cards (“Maxed Out at
the Urban League,” WW, Dec. 7, 2011)
Willamette Week OCTOBER 11, 2017 wweek.com
The county also found serious shortcomings
in the Urban League’s senior services program
back then, including inadequate record keeping
and a failure to live up to promises to provide
transportation assistance to clients.
Under new leadership, things have improved,
although over the past year, the Urban League
earned mixed performance reviews from the
The missed deadline placed Multnomah
County in an awkward position. As complaints
about racism were heating up, the county was
left without a contractor to provide services to
Nkenge Harmon Johnson, president and
CEO of the Urban League, denies the proposal
was late. She says an Urban League representa-
tive showed up just before the deadline to turn
in the application but found no county worker
available to accept the proposal.
A time-stamped form and a memo written
June 28, however, shows that a county employee
was at the desk at 4:01 pm when the procure-
ment window closed. Moments later, the memo
says, an Urban League representative walked in
and the county employee at the front desk time-
stamped the proposal at 4:02 pm.
But the county forgave the tardiness earlier
this month. County offi cials decided to move for-
ward with the Urban League, offering the organi-
zation a one-year contract of $121,000 to provide
culturally specific services to black seniors in
2018. That’s more than fi ve times the organiza-
tion’s previous contract of about $23,482 in fi scal
County documents say offi cials awarded the
Urban League more money because “the Depart-
ment of County Human Services has examined
its allocation practices to find ways to better
align funding with the needs of communities
most negatively impacted by systemic racism,
health inequity and barriers to opportunity.”
Multnomah County will reopen the procure-
ment process for senior services in January, giv-
ing the Urban League a second chance.
If the organization turns in an application by
the April 30 deadline, it will probably be awarded
the four-year contract it would have received
this year if it had met the deadline.
“It’s great news,” Harmon Johnson says. “Run-
ning the Urban League means a number of things,
including learning to roll with the punches. The
Urban League’s intent is to continue running the
seniors program that we’ve run for decades.”