The Cottage Grove Special Olympics team is getting its money back.
The announcement came early last week via local coordinator and volunteer Carmen Dowell who posted the news to a local social media page. The news was confirmed by Oregon Special Olympics, directing questions to a statement posted on the organization’s website that read, in part, “… We are excited to have resolved the issues surrounding the gift from Michelle Portmann’s Living Trust and return the focus to our athletes.” Dowell stated that the organization had “acknowledged the funds should have stayed local and we will be getting them back.” She also pointed to the organization’s current financial state and noted the two parties had “negotiated a fair payment plan.” Special Olympics Oregon would not confirm specifics concerning the agreement.
Portmann, who passed away in 2012, left $50,000 to the organization specifically earmarked for the Cottage Grove program. Dowell began asking where the money was.
“I noticed in June,” she said. “Something wasn’t right. They told us that they were going to do quotas so we kept waiting. They said they would tell us about the plans for the games on Friday and then they would tell us on Monday and then they said Summer Games are cancelled. Then, the CFO was fired.” The Special Olympics Chief Financial Officer position changed hands in April when the organization welcomed Lori Van Dyke. Soon after, in June, the Special Olympics announced that it was suspending the summer games—expected to draw approximately 1,500 athletes—citing financial problems. In 2016, the organization took a $325,000 loss on $4.5 million in revenue.
When questions surrounding Cottage Grove’s program funds were raised, Special Olympics Oregon CEO Britt Oase--who joined the organization in June-- released a statement noting that local program coordinators were simply misunderstanding how the organization’s money was handled.
“In our recent conversations with local program coordinators, in both group webinars and individual calls and meetings, we have found there to be an inconsistent understanding of the Special Olympics Oregon business model that has been in place, how funds are allocated and how to interpret the internal reports they have received,” Oase said in the statement.
A financial statement posted to the Special Olympics website showed $50,457.58 in the local account as of Jan. 31, 2017.
At the time, The Sentinel requested an accounting of how the local program’s $50,000 gift has been spent. Between 2012 and 2017, documents show approximately $36,000 spent, with half of the funds going towards lodging which was traditionally reimbursed by Special Olympics. However, those funds had not been reimbursed to the local program.
Special Olympics Oregon Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, Chad Carter said the new agreement was amicable and directed questions to a statement released on the organization’s website written by Oase which noted she and director of program and coach services Joe Harvey traveled to Cottage Grove to meet with the local team. “(We) discussed opportunities and identified how we can move forward together,” the statement read in part.
It noted that Special Olympics Oregon was “excited” to have resolved the issue and printed a statement from Dowell.
“I am so pleased that we have come to an agreement regarding Michelle Portmann’s gracious gift to our local program with Special Olympics,” Dowell’s statement, an email sent to Special Olympics Oregon, read. “Her legacy will continue to live on and help the athletes she loved. I know it's not the current SOOR employees who created this situation and am very grateful that you met with us and showed us that you deeply care about this issue and resolving it. On behalf of my athletes and coaches, thank you.”