Q&A: Small Business Advocate Ashley Henry on How City Money Goes Into the Pockets of the PBA

In June 2022, Ashley Henry stepped down as the head of Company for a Superior Portland—a Portland company advocacy corporation Henry experienced founded five many years prior—and handed the job more than to previous condition Agent Karin Electrical power. At the time, it was characterized as a regular determination to changeover management, rooted in Henry’s need to take a pause right after 5 many years preventing for compact firms to have a seat at the table in citywide coverage discussions.

On Thursday evening, Henry disclosed that her selection to go away was slightly fewer copacetic.

In a submit released to her online blog, Henry stated that her exit was motivated by an alleged danger of litigation from the Portland Small business Alliance (PBA), a more conservative and engrained organization lobby recognized for representing the policy demands of the city’s greatest organizations. She went on to claim that PBA threatened to sue her and Company for a Superior Portland above her community opinions on how PBA depends on general public service fees to keep afloat.

The PBA declined to comment on the document relating to the accusation to the Mercury.

Henry had specially talked in general public meetings about the Downtown Portland Increased Assistance District (ESD), a geographic district where by house owners are obliged to spend a rate to reward from “improved” products and services (ie: added trash pickup, non-public safety, retail advertising) structured by a contractor.

The Downtown Portland ESD is operated by an corporation known as Downtown Portland Clean up and Risk-free, which subcontracts with the PBA. The city’s $6 million agreement with Clear and Protected funnels instantly into the wallets of PBA’s best executives. City files present that virtually 50 percent of PBA executive salaries appear from the Cleanse and Safe and sound contract’s cash. In small, town dollars are directly subsidizing the operate of one particular of its biggest lobbyists. 

Clean up and Safe’s work has been criticized in the previous for its protection guards allegedly harassing unsheltered homeless persons and supplying particular treatment to PBA’s most monied enterprise members. In point, in 2020, the metropolis auditors office introduced a report on ESDs which underlined main difficulties with Thoroughly clean and Safe’s structure, pointing to the deficiency of budget monitoring and transparency in its private security work.

The city pledged to respond to the audit’s concerns—and propose fixes—by tumble 2022. It has however to do so. 

In the guide-up to a September 2021 Portland Metropolis Council vote to renew Thoroughly clean and Safe’s five-12 months agreement as an ESD operator, metropolis leaders listened to from dozens of Portlanders on why they believe that the operate must go to a different contractor, fewer entwined with the city’s top rated organization foyer. Henry was a person of those people Portlanders. She claims her statements led to the PBA threatening to sue for libel.

This week, the Mercury requested Henry to additional make clear the legal risk and her conclusion to depart the organization she launched. The beneath discussion has been edited for clarity. 

MERCURY: Can you describe the situations that led to what happened listed here?

HENRY: In September of 2021, City Council was taking into consideration regardless of whether or not to renew a metropolis contract with PBA. This is a multimillion dollar contract that pays for the Downtown Portland Thoroughly clean and Protected software which is appreciated by downtown organizations for its thoroughly clean-up expert services and internet marketing efforts. The contract and associated revenues also delivers a significant subsidy for the govt salaries at the PBA which gives that business a remarkable sum of electrical power in Metropolis Hall. Based mostly on the 4-additionally decades I’d been on the career at that stage, I most usually expert PBA advocating versus the passions of little business enterprise and broader neighborhood needs. The absence of transparency about how the cash created underneath this contract was notable not only to me, but to the Town Auditor as perfectly who’d unveiled a damning report the year prior to. It’s very challenging to wrap your head all over it, but the town proficiently subsidizes the PBA’s lobbying initiatives, which normally are in direct contradiction to community advocacy efforts for tiny enterprise stewardship, weather motion, or tackling our housing crisis. I named interest to the deficiency of transparency and accountability in my community testimony and in the course of conferences with town commissioners. That was apparently enough to inspire a risk of litigation. 

How did you hear about this threat?

1 of my board members was contacted by anyone who was in attendance at a PBA board conference. That board member relayed to me that, at that conference, the PBA board talked over filing litigation against me and Organization for a Far better Portland for my reviews prior to the deal vote. I by no means been given paperwork threatening litigation, it appeared like a full whisper campaign. 

What was your preliminary response to that menace?

Perfectly, at very first, I believed it was a joke. I signify, we were a small organization—their organization’s budget was approximately twelve instances greater than ours at the time —and it just appeared hard to believe that they’d behave in this kind of a bully-ish way. Some of my customers instructed that we share the risk publicly. It was surely a David and Goliath moment and could have delivered quite a improve to our 12 months-stop fundraising initiatives.

We finished up giving a type of “cocktail summit” for a couple of folks from my board to satisfy with some of the PBA associates to try out and interesting factors off. I didn’t want to place my board members via a authorized drama. They are all small small business entrepreneurs with overflowing plates. 

What did that menace of litigation tell you about the PBA’s interests? 

It definitely shows how accustomed they are to contacting the shots in this city and suggests that it is very vital to the PBA that they keep on to obtain this enormous, metropolis-enabled subsidy. They’ve endured several years of scrutiny from group members and advocacy organizations who really do not like some of the providers that Downtown Clean up and Secure pays for, but I really don’t know if there experienced beforehand been substantially emphasis on how the monetary arrangement added benefits the PBA alone and the extent to which there is almost no city oversight of people cash. 

Curiously adequate, I have been told on at the very least two events that PBA executives and board members on their own refer to this deal as “existential” in conversation. 

There is undeniably a will need for small business leadership to help the city of Portland as a result of this tough chapter in our history—there’s no scarcity of triggers that would considerably benefit from proactive small business leadership investing their time and assets in the upcoming of our town. The PBA’s prioritization of securing this sort of a valuable and opaque deal and then employing that community funding to advocate for an agenda that stymies ongoing efforts like the constitution reform campaign or the Portland Clean Electricity Fund appears counterproductive at finest to the requires and passions of each day Portland small business owners—and all Portlanders, for that make any difference. This arrangement creates political incentive for elected officers to stifle so lots of of the modifications Portland desperately needs to holistically spend in an equitable recovery. 

How did that legal observe affect or impact your decision to step down from Company for a Far better Portland?

To be trustworthy, I was now looking at stepping absent from the organization. I was practically 5 decades into my tenure with the firm by the time this transpired and was previously contemplating my exit method. I am very pleased of our accomplishments in the course of my tenure at Business for a Much better Portland to build the group as a authentic and credible voice for supporting a lively and equitable economic system, and just after five decades I was genuinely exhausted. It was clearly time to move the torch to new management to have on the mission and produce the next chapter of the firm.

But make no mistake, this predicament certainly catalyzed my departure and crystallized my personalized knowing of the totality of the institutional and structural failures represented by their brazenness. Across the assortment of challenges I labored on for the duration of my time in that function, I can assume of only a couple situations the place I witnessed PBA proactively advocating for guidelines and funding priorities that aligned with the requires of our compact organization local community. I just could not foresee continuing to swim upstream and attempt to boost the voices of small enterprise leaders when our individual elected officers tacitly accepted massively subsidizing an firm that promises the mantle of business enterprise advocacy, nonetheless continually works in opposition to the wants of the small business enterprise neighborhood and the group at big. 

What do you say to any recommendation that likely community with this information and facts is just bitter grapes on your portion?

I never have any ambition here other than a sense of hope for a extra degree taking part in field at City Hall that will end result in far better outcomes for all Portlanders. If just about anything, I am putting my career at fantastic possibility of calling focus to this matter yet again in a town that is so fantastic at refusing to handle the elephant in the home and punishing the folks who do. Why is it off limitations to focus on this kind of a large, important, pricey application flagged as unaccountable by the Metropolis Auditor? 

How is it excellent for Portland’s business and condo homeowners to have to pay back into municipal courses run with such abysmal oversight and reporting that it is practically extremely hard to abide by the cash? 

My hunch is that if any individual usually takes a handful of minutes to look at the nonsensical governance framework that is at the moment employed involving the Metropolis, PBA and DCS and then considers the thousands and thousands of pounds at play, they will realize my stress as an truthful and fair assessment of a meaningful coverage failure.

Maria Flores

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