Regional Arts and Culture Council Executive Director Placed on Paid Leave Pending Outside Investigation

The ouster follows funding cuts and questions about how the agency uses public dollars.

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Carol Tatch, executive director of the greater Portland area’s Regional Arts and Culture Council, has been placed on paid leave pending an outside investigation.

The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported on the ouster Tuesday. The news comes as the organization, which has managed arts and cultural funding in Portland and the tri-county metropolitan area since 1995, is poised to lose 70% of its operating budget.

Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan announced the city would cut financial ties with the arts organization in July. Last year the city contributed $7.4 million of the agency’s annual budget of $10.6 million, through a combination of general funds and city tax dollars, according to The Oregonian’s Tuesday story.

At that time a policy advisor for Ryan’s office said the organization was spending too much on management and administration, accounting for $2 million of the $4 million the city had sent from the general operating fund. In August Ryan wrote  op-ed for Oregon Arts Watch saying  “there have been issues of transparency and alignment” with RACC and that the organization has failed to share data and demonstrate clearly how funds are used.

Oregon Arts Watch also ran an op-ed by Tatch in August. She argued that the organization “continued to meet and exceed the performance measures outlined in our contract” and that the statements coming from City of Portland were “misleading and incorrect.”

An email from Interim Board Chair Debby Garman obtained by The Oregonian said concerns brought forward by staff members led to the decision to investigate Tatch. The email did not provide specifics on the allegations, but confirmed the board would investigate the matter using a third-party independent investigation, and that she hopes “to begin this process as soon as possible.”

Tatch, who had led the agency since 2021, has not commented on the matter. C3 Collective, a crisis PR communications firm based in Portland, submitted a statement to The Oregonian on behalf of Garman about the ouster.

“This step is taken out of an abundance of caution to continue to demonstrate RACC’s integrity in transparently overseeing taxpayer dollars provided by the City of Portland, Metro, and Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties,” the statement reads. “Since this is an internal personnel matter, and the board respects Ms. Tatch’s privacy, we cannot share further information at this time.”

In September Ryan’s office requested RACC provide contact information for all grant recipients who receive city funding through the agency, and said the city would withhold the agency’s next quarterly payment —$1.3 million — if the RACC failed to follow through with this request by the end of the month.

In 2020, RACC laid off 15 employees after a city audit of the program found the council was unclear of its responsibilities and did not do an adequate job of measuring its performance, prompting discussions among city councilors about whether to continue its contract with the organization.

A previous version of this article failed to mention C3 Collective submitted a statement to the Oregonian on behalf of RACC Board Chair Debby Garman. Oregon Business regrets this error.