One of the few people of color on the Energy Trust of Oregon's board of directors resigned this week—and issued a letter accusing the board of longtime internal racism and general exclusion of minorities in the process.
"I joined the [Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO)] board with the intention of contributing my expertise and experience in working with communities of color and creating space for the current and growing diversity of Oregon," wrote outgoing board member Eddie Sherman in his resignation email, which was sent to ETO employees, ETO board members, and the leaders of numerous other Oregon nonprofits.
In the email obtained by the Portland Mercury, Sherman detailed a number of ways he's felt ETO's board has intentionally kept people of color and low-income communities from being represented on the board. According to Sherman, a Native American, a number of qualified people of color vying to join the ETO board have been denied application after being "held to a different standard" than what had been used to measure the current majority-white board members.
"I have raised concerns that our board, staff and executive leadership do not reflect the ratepayers and that our programs are designed and culturally tailored to upper-income white homeowners," Sherman writes. "This feedback has been met with explicitly racist statements about the capacity, intelligence, and qualifications of people of color, communities of color and a litany of excuses about lack of data."
The ETO was created in 1999, as a organization responsible for smartly distributing some of the funds from a 3 percent charge on Oregon energy customers' bills, approved by the state legislature. The funds are meant to support energy conservation in public schools, offer energy assistance to low-income homeowners, and offer energy efficiency and renewable energy programs to residential and business customers.
According to Sherman, ETO serves a region where one out of every three adults identifies as a person of color or an immigrant.
"I do not believe that the Oregon Legislature, the Oregon voters and taxpayers, our utility partners, and more specifically the ratepayers of ETO intended to create a program that is failing to benefit low-income people and people of color while requiring them to pay a significant portion of the revenue to fund this program," Sherman writes.
Amber Cole, director of communications for ETO, says she and fellow ETO staff were "surprised and saddened" by Sherman's resignation.
"We take very seriously his concerns about how we address race, ethnicity and income at our board meetings, in our board nomination practices and in our services to customers, especially those with the greatest energy burdens to bear," wrote Cole in an email to the Mercury. "His resignation signals for us the need to further strengthen our commitment to ensuring that everyone we work for and with—our customers, board members, staff and partners—are included and valued in this important work."