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Theft charges horrify Milwaukie nonprofits

Former city recorder released from jail on Thursday


Longtime Milwaukie residents who have kids involved in area schools and youth sports programs were concerned about volunteer boards of nonprofit entities where Juli Howard has had access to funds.

Howard, 40, a former assistant city recorder for Milwaukie, was arrested on Wednesday on charges of stealing public funds. An arraignment set for Thursday was rescheduled for March 11 after she was “matrixed” from Clackamas County Jail and released.

Since the investigation began in August, Howard remained a board officer for several local nonprofits, including vice president of the Rowe Middle School PTA. Milwaukie’s Police Department, which immediately coordinated its investigation with the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office, said it has found no evidence so far that Howard stole any other funds outside of the city of Milwaukie.

Board members who had worked closely with Howard said they were surprised by the charges and didn’t see any suspicious activity. Howard was generally trusted by fellow board members, who saw her as scrupulous and frequently heard her speak out to encourage adherence to rules.

Rowe PTA President Tina Heen called an emergency meeting to assuage fears that funds had also been stolen from school fundraisers. In accordance with the general PTA policy, Howard always had other volunteers with her at fundraisers involving cash, Heen noted. Although at meetings Howard reported on the dozens of members each year who paid their $15 membership fees, these fees were typically paid with checks, so Howard wasn’t worried that money could have gone missing.

“Typically when we get membership forms, the money goes directly to the treasurer (Yvonne McVay), and Juli was just in charge of telling the Oregon PTA who our members were to match up contact lists,” Heen said.

Although local schools receive taxpayer funding, parents typically pay hundreds of dollars annually for their kids’ involvement in youth athletics, and they don’t want to worry about possible improprieties going on behind the scenes. With continued cutbacks to public schools, PTAs have become even more important to augment supplies and services to support the teachers and students.

Removed from boards

In an emergency meeting on Wednesday, an interim was named to replace Juli Howard as treasurer/secretary of Milwaukie Youth Soccer Club, where she has been involved for a decade. Soccer Club Vice President Karen Gallaway noted that Howard as treasurer wouldn’t have access to writing checks. About 80 percent of the club’s funds come in electronically, and there are two signees on any other transaction.

“I’m very comfortable with the safeguards we’ve had in place,” Gallaway said.

Soccer Club President Susan McCarty added that Howard had been “subdued” since she resigned her position at City Hall when the investigation began in August. But Howard had remained involved at board meetings, and the organization has continued robust growth.

“I am 100 percent confident that Milwaukie Soccer Club funds are exactly where they should be and how they should be,” McCarty said.

Milwaukie Junior Baseball President Tim Salyers said his organization has had a “full check-and-balances with registration,” which was always checked by an outside auditor. As registrar, Howard collected payments for registrations and helped the organization with cash fundraisers.

Howard was a co-signer on some checks, but there was always another signee, Salyers or Treasurer Yvonne McVay. Salyers and McVay talked about the issue when the allegations first surfaced in August. They “racked” their brains for a way that funds could have been going missing and couldn’t think of a possible loophole.

In August, Milwaukie’s Finance Department and Municipal Court personnel recognized a pattern in money transactions that were deemed suspicious, officials say. During the course of an internal financial audit, they discovered “anomalies in cash transactions” that pointed to Howard.

“I’ve known about it since August and cooperated with the Milwaukie Police Department, and I’ve assured them too that the money we’ve had has been very safe, and we’re in good financial shape that’s never been better in the last few years,” Salyers said.

On Friday, Milwaukie Junior Baseball Association’s Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Howard as registrar and picture coordinator.

“We hope that these accusations are false and she will be welcomed back to our organization with open arms, if these issues are cleared up,” Salyers later wrote in an official statement from the board over the weekend. “She helped implement our Meatstick Fundraiser and did a great job as registrar collecting funds. She also acted as registrar for the North Clackamas Fall Ball, which is a collective effort between Putnam Youth Baseball Association, Milwaukie Junior Baseball Association and North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District. This was something that she pushed for, and both youth leagues have greatly benefitted from the extra income that this has produced.”