I smell smoke

Wow, you talk about a juicy story. Here's a scandal in the making. For many years, the City of Portland let a nonprofit take over the historic Kenton Firehouse, use it, rent it out, maintain it, and keep the rent after expenses. Apparently there was no lease, or a very unusual one; the deal was mostly, or all, done on a handshake. Bidding process? Ha! Ha! Come on.

Sometimes the nonprofit let its friends use the place for nothing, or for a token rent. Tina Kohoutek had an office there for a dozen years when she was in the state legislature, reportedly paying $200 a month. I, Tina's replacement in the state House, Travis Nelson (another fine "no" vote on Measure 110 repeal, by the way), is in there now, paying nothing. 

The nonprofit in the middle of all these loosey-goosey arrangements went out of business in 2022. Its last filing with the IRS says that it handed out its last $103,000 in grants that year and folded. 

And the guy running the nonprofit? Um, that would be the then-city auditor's husband.

What? You heard right. It was Tom Griffin-Valade (pictured left), husband of one-time city auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade (right), currently the Oregon secretary of state. He was running something called Kenton Action Plan, which used the catchier name North Portland Community Works in its interactions with the public. They're the ones to whom the city handed the keys to the firehouse.

Now, it could possibly have been all on the up-and-up, but this week's scathing report on the arrangement by the current city auditor "fraud hotline" team suggests otherwise. Some excerpts:

We found that management of the Firehouse was inefficient because there were unclear responsibilities and requirements for the nonprofit partner and that asset management and revenue policies were bypassed.... We also found that the mismanagement of the Firehouse and lack of documentation risks the appearance of fraud because the City did not have records to show that rental fees were appropriately used for the maintenance and restoration of the Firehouse.

Without accurate and complete records of business transactions, there are lingering questions about whether there was any rental revenue remaining when North Portland Community Works stopped operating. The City will not be able to get back any potentially remaining rental revenue because there were no documented requirements for the use of proceeds from rental revenue. There were also no documented requirements and unclear responsibility for determining rates for rental fees that could have resulted in insufficient fees being collected for the maintenance and operation of the building....

The City did not have accurate and complete records of business transactions for the rental of the Kenton Firehouse. Due to this lack of documentation, we were not able to find evidence of fraud. However, a lack of documentation has the potential to create an appearance of fraud. Without documentation, the City and North Portland Community Works are not able to show that rental income was appropriately used to fund the maintenance and restoration of the historic building.

I see "appearance of fraud" in there twice, don't you? Apparently the local media don't read as carefully as you and I do. Here's the O, ever the Portland Polite™, passing the scandal off as "bungling"; they don't even mention Griffin-Valade. At least the kids at the Merc got off their duffs, found his name, and made the connection.

The city office that's taking the heat for the fiasco is "Community and Civic Life," which rides herd over the neighborhood associations (and often undermines them). That office has always attracted some of the worst lights on the City Council, but I don't think you can blame this one on Jo Ann With the Bullhorn or Chloe Eudaly. It sounds like the crazy firehouse deal goes back further than their hilarious tenures. Given the timeframe and the fact that it's Kenton, I'd be very surprised if this wasn't a Sam Adams special.

Anyway, Portland's quite the entertaining place, if you pay attention. It's all in the family.


  1. The more I hear of situations like this, the more I think the O is in the tank for city bureaucrats.

    1. They do pick and choose what to make a stink about. If they sicced Ted Sickinger on this, they could probably win a prize. But he's busy doing God-knows-what trying to keep the ship afloat.

    2. Based on their website, it looks like advice columns are the only thing keeping that ship afloat.

  2. Another local saint — or at least the saint’s husband — bites the dust. I don’t think there are any left.

  3. And didn't Miz Tina turn around and appoint Toms wife Secretary of State after she received that long-time sweetheart rent arrangement? Very cozy...

  4. You can't even cut down a tree in your backyard without a permit, but hey if you are in the club, no contracts required. My Grandpa used to drink whiskey with the mayor in the afternoons at his meat market on Yamhill. Can we go back to those days?


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