LYNNWOOD, Wash., July 12, 2023—In a shocking decision, the Lynnwood Public Facilities District (otherwise known as The District) unanimously approved a vote of no confidence, Tuesday morning, of its newest, and only Asian American member, Vivian Dong, for her support of Olympus Spa — a District business currently entangled in a legal battle regarding a Human Rights Complaint.
“Personally, I wasn’t really prepared. I felt ambushed, set up and possibly discriminated against,” Vivian Dong told the Lynnwood Times. “It’s been a shock, a total shock.”
As part of that vote, which was originally phrased as removing Dong from her position, something the Board may not have the authority to do, became a recommendation of her resignation. Dong declined to do so.
In June. Western Washington District Court Judge, Barbara Jacobs Rothstein, ordered the Lynnwood-based Korean spa to allow pre-op transwomen access to its female exclusive facility after a complaint filed with the Washington State Human Rights Commission. A rally in support of the spa was held on June 17 at the Lynnwood Convention Center, who’s governing board owns the property of Olympus Spa.
Approximately 250 people attended the protest, by both groups in support of the spa and in support of trans rights, but projections were that up to 2,000 people were expected to attend. The District hired a private security team, Jones Lange LaSalle (JLL), of nine people for an 8-hour shift, plus overtime as needed to plan for the worst. Additionally, the LPD placed a riot team on the 13-acre site with other local police departments on standby.
Olympus Spa owner Sun Lee was not in favor of the rally, fearing it would hurt his business and reputation. Pope wrote in an email, on June 13, that Lee was “pretty angry with the Lynnwood Times for misquoting him,” however in our original coverage of the spa incident we wrote “Lee declined to comment further on the incident, citing the controversial nature of the situation, and deferred all questions to his lawyer, Tracy Tribbet with Pacific Justice Institute.”
Lee could not be reached for comment regarding what “misquote” Pope may have been referring to.
During Tuesday’s meeting Janet Pope, Executive Director for the District, passed a note to Board Chair Mike Miller, after realizing the Lynnwood Times was covering the meeting. The note read: “The Lynnwood Times is here. You are free to say no to any interviews. You might want to adjourn before Jim speaks.”
Lynnwood City Councilman Jim Smith, council liaison for the PFD Board, was not granted the opportunity to discuss the matter regarding Vivian Dong nor was he allowed to ask any questions regarding the vote. In the meeting’s agenda the last 15 minutes were allotted for comments by Councilman Smith but the meeting abruptly ended before this could take place.
No where in the agenda was the vote regarding Dong included nor was she given prior notice a vote involving her were to take place.
After Board Chair Mike Miller read the accusations against Dong, the motion of no confidence against her was introduced by Miller and seconded by Wally Webster II and without objection and no discussion, the motion passed 4-0, with Vivian Dong muted on Zoom and unable to vote.
When asked why Dong’s audio was muted prior to the motion and vote, Miller told the Lynnwood Times that Dong was “rambling” about the statement he publicly read. According to the video, Dong immediately refuted the accusations by Miller against her for approximately three-and-a-half minutes, at which time, Miller stated to the Lynnwood Times, he told Josh Cain to mute her audio.
The District’s Board declined the Lynnwood Times’ request for further comment on their decision and referred us to the statement read during Tuesday’s meeting.
Pope cited Dong’s “promotion” of the rally on her social media as a cause of her no confidence vote — a rally which the District alleges costed businesses approximately $35,000 in lost revenue and the District approximately $10,000 to $12,500 in protest management. The District never reached out to Dong requesting she remove her social media post.
Dong signed a code of conduct when appointed agreeing to act in the financial best interest of the District, which the District says she violated. However, the decision to close businesses fell on Pope despite her claiming the decision was per the recommendation of the Lynnwood Police Department.
In an email, sent on June 15, Pope wrote: “Based on current information the LPD recommended that all our tenants close for business that day. Several are very upset by this loss in business and concerned for their property.”
Pope also claimed the decision to close businesses was the Lynnwood PD’s recommendation during a sit-down interview with Journalist Jonathan Choe, Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute, in a collaboration with the Lynnwood Times.
However, the Lynnwood PD confirmed this was not the case.
“Lynnwood Police was not involved in any recommendation to close those businesses in the area. Janet Pope is the one who managed that, not LPD,” Maren McKay, Lynnwood Police Department’s Public Affairs and Communications Manager, told the Lynnwood Times.
Leading up into the rally Dong sent an email to Matt Hendricks, PFD’s attorney, on June 13, asking if she could attend to show her support “both as an Asian woman as well as the PFD board member to support our key tenant.”
She received a response from Janet Pope that same day stating “you are certainly allowed to attend and have your own free speech, just not representing the PFD.”
Two days later, on June 15, Pope then wrote in an email: “Based on the recommendations from the Lynnwood Police and the JLL Risk Management team who has international experience with this, they are asking that no staff or board members other than our emergency operations team be on site, so that limited resources can be spent on preventing incidents.
The Lynnwood Police Department confirmed with the Lynnwood Times they never made recommendations for staff or board members to not be on-site.
According to Lynnwood Public Facilities District By-laws, Article 10, Section 1, which deal with Board Director Conduct: “any director has the right to express personal views and opinions pursuant to Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, statements purporting to represent the view or pronouncements of the Board or the Public Facilities District or committees thereof shall not be made in advance of the Board’s final determination of the matter, except as directed or authorized by a majority of the entire Board at any special or regular meeting or public hearing.”
Never in Dong’s social media posts did she claim to be speaking on behalf of the Board, nor as a Board representative. Pope herself was also in attendance at the June 17 rally.
Dong was appointed to the District board by the Lynnwood City Council in April. Leading up to that decision Pope and The District Board Chair, Mike Miller, made it clear they did not think she would be a good fit.
In a letter sent to the Lynnwood City Council, signed by both Pope and Miller, they wrote: “Our interview team did not believe [Dong] would be able to fill some of the urgent gaps we are currently experiencing,” citing Dong’s busy work schedule, and that she appeared “unfocused” and “unclear” on what the Board does. Their top pick, the letter indicates, was Lynnwood City Council Candidate Nick Coelho. To view the letter in its entirety, click here.
According to Lynnwood City Council video recording during her 13-minute interview with the City Council on April 17, six days after Miller and Pope’s letter to the council, Dong who is a Senior Software Engineer, shared she will capitalize on her engineering and leadership experience in IT , financial management, and community outreach to bring valuable insights and perspectives to the PFD board, helping to create a vibrant, and thriving “live, work, play” space for all residents.
In the last three months since Dong was appointed, the District’s website has not been updated to include Dong in its list of board members.
Prior to joining the Board, Dong has established herself as a well-known community member in Lynnwood for her work with Safe Lynnwood — an organization created to protest against the opening of a methadone clinic just 433 feet away from the Alderwood Boys and Girls Club.
She has since used the Safe Lynnwood social media page to vocalize her political stance, some regarding LGBTQ+ issues — something Board members said conflicted with the District’s “community-focused apolitical” approach.
In a letter sent by the District Board, and publicly read during Tuesday’s PFD Board Meeting, “there is considerable evidence that board member Ms. Dong and her organization Safe Lynnwood were very involved in the promotion and organization of the event,” referring to the June 17 rally. “Safe Lynnwood promoted the protest on social media and interacted frequently with several individuals involved in the event, including groups on national watch lists as extremist organizations,” the letter accuses.
While Dong did, in fact, post about the rally on her Safe Lynnwood social media page on June 12, primary organizer of the event, Sovereign Women Speak – who considers themselves a “grassroots, non-partisan, and woman-centered” group yet considered a trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERF) group by others – confirmed with the Lynnwood Times that Dong was not involved in organizing the rally and April Morrow, the Founder and Executive Director of the group, shared that “they aren’t even aware who she [Dong] is.”
The Lynnwood Times has confirmed with Dong, that she never organized nor was involved in the planning of the rally.
The District’s letter to the Council further stated “we are removing [Dong] from our board and request that you assign another community member to our board,” citing the following accusations, not allegations, against Dong:
- “Organizing” the rally.
- Statements made on social media.
- Financial harm caused to the District, yet, according to the Lynnwood Police Department, it was Pope’s decision to recommend closing businesses upon advice of a security firm.
- Attending the rally, despite emails by Pope and the PFD Attorney approving Dong to attend. Pope along with other staff members also attended the rally as its emergency management team which Pope did not want Dong to be involved in.
- Failure to ask if there was an event impacted by the rally or what the financial repercussions of the rally would be. However, there was no mention that any other Board member voiced this concern.
It is unclear if the Board has the authority to remove Dong without approval from the Lynnwood City Council who appointed her. After multiple requests, the PFD Board has yet to provide a copy of its Bylaws to the Lynnwood Times for review, nor responded to our request. The District has yet to provide a copy of its Public Records Request policy, nor a copy of the statement read by Chair Miller. The City of Lynnwood provided a copy of Miller’s statement after it was shared with the council earlier in the day.
Dong has confirmed with the Lynnwood Times that she has yet to receive a copy of the accusations made against her by the PFD Board.
The District oversees the operation of the Lynnwood Event Center and the surrounding 13 acres. It’s current goal aims to redevelop Lynnwood’s downtown core as a live, work, play, and entertainment destination for the region with a $200 million Master Plan. The Board of Directors is a volunteer position with a term limit of four years, which can be renewed at end of the term.
PFD Statement Regarding Vivian Dong
The following statement was read in the public meeting on July 11, 2023, by PFD Board Chair Mike Miller as the justification for removing fellow Board member Vivian Dong. It was signed by Wally Webster II, Rosario Reyes, Taylor Nordby, and Mike Miller. No supporting evidence nor documentation was shared in the meeting to substantiate the claims against Board member Dong. To view the 3-page document, click here.
During a phone interview with the Lynnwood Times on July 11, Chair Miller, did not share, when asked, if an investigation was conducted nor who conducted the investigation against Dong. He did state that Executive Director Janet Pope authored a vast majority of the statement he read on Tuesday and that the other Board members reviewed the document for their input prior to the meeting.