LYNNWOOD, Wash., August 21, 2023—Citizen Action Defense Fund has launched an investigation into alleged discrimination of Lynnwood Public Facilities District (PFD) board member Vivian Dong by Board Chair Mike Miller and Executive Director Janet Pope for their latest treatment of the newly appointed board member during Lynnwood Luau on August 19.
“I felt shocked, frustrated, unwelcomed, and frankly a little bit frightened for being treated this way,” Dong told the Lynnwood Times in an exclusive interview. “I have been living in Lynnwood for almost 10 years and never felt this way. I have never felt being discriminated against so much in my life.”
For approximately an hour, from 3:25 p.m. to 4:27 p.m. on Saturday, Dong stood in the left-most corner of the 10-ft x 10-ft booth assigned to The District for the Lynnwood Luau event. The booth served as an information hub for the inclusive cultural event and had a placard with a QR code to accept donations for the victims of the Lahaina wildfires.
Pictures and video show three persons with no more than five, including Dong, ever occupying the booth at any one time. Dong can also be seen answering questions by attendees. In two pictures taken by the Lynnwood Times, Executive Director Pope is standing cordially in the booth with Board member Dong.
According to videos presented to the Lynnwood Times with a timestamp of 4:27 p.m. of the incident alleging discrimination, both Pope and Miller tell Dong, a sitting board member, that she does not represent The District and repeatedly insist she vacate The District’s booth at The District’s function.
“You are not representing The District right now, can you please leave,” Executive Director Pope told Dong with just inches separating them.
Pope informed Dong that because she was not scheduled to be in the booth nor trained, that she must leave. At one point, Pope placed her arm in front of and just inches from Dong’s face when pointing to a location outside of the booth where Dong can address attendees’ questions.
After a discussion with Robyn Spencer, a hired Festival Manager from San Diego for the event, and helping a Chinese American resident from Edmonds translate information on a pamphlet and answering her questions, The District Board Chair Mike Miller arrived to confront Dong.
Shortly after reaching to grab her arm, he insisted Dong leave the booth because, according to Miller, The District has a trained “staff” to answer questions. Dong shared she was providing translation services for the guests as she was doing for the past hour.
The Lynnwood Times was informed that The District had up to twenty “staff” volunteers for the Lynnwood Luau event and is awaiting confirmation if these were paid contracted positions.
“I am really glad I can come and learn, that’s why I’m here,” Dong told Miller. “I want to know the community feedback and I can only get that from talking to actual people.”
After Dong then told Miller that she took notes to share at the next Board meeting, he again asked Dong to leave.
“We don’t need your help,” Miller said.
Dong insisted she was there to help translate for non-English speaking residents for which Miller began insisting Dong leave the booth and reiterating,” I don’t need your help” and “you are in the way.”
Miller than looked into the camera saying, “I am Mike Miller, Chairman of the Board, so you know who I am.”
Miller then requested Dong to leave the exhibit and began pointing his finger at her adding that they [The District] will take care of the language issues with attendees. However, according to Dong, she was the only person at the booth providing translation services for Chinese speakers.
“We don’t want you representing the PFD. You don’t have my authorization to do that,” Miller told Dong pointing his finger.
After Dong shared the value she brings to the booth by making it a more inclusive event for members of the Asian Community, Miller replied, “Do you ever run out of words? Do you ever say anything more than once? I want you to leave the exhibit right now.”
“There are no one here that wants you truly here except maybe this guy,” Miller told Dong then pointed to the cameraman.
When asked if she was aggressive or inciteful during her hour in The District booth at the Lynnwood Luau event before being accosted by Pope or Miller, Dong said no. Dong shared that she left without incident as to not “create a scene” because she wanted the event to be a “great experience for everyone.”
“They just don’t want me to be on the Board,” Dong told the Lynnwood Times when asked for a theory to both Miller’s and Pope’s actions. “They wanted to kick me out of the Board since from the beginning.”
In an email sent on Sunday, August 20, to the Lynnwood City Mayor, Lynnwood City Council, the entire board of The District, and Executive Director Pope, Dong alleges that the “PFD Director and Chair chose to treat the job as a political power struggle rather than putting the common interest of the PFD first.”
“I cannot help but think about what Council Member George Hurst mentioned in the previous city council meeting: that community members who stepped up to serve on the board are not treated nicely or with respect, and that’s why people are hesitant to come forward,” Dong wrote. “This is exactly what happened with the Lynnwood PFD Board: the series of attacks against me, starting from the July board meeting, the letter of accusation with no investigation or proof, the discriminatory comments at the subsequent Lynnwood city council meeting, and the Lynnwood Luau event yesterday. It’s shocking and horrifying that an Asian woman who stepped up to represent and serve her community and culture got threatened and bullied like this by the very same people who claimed that they are ‘inclusive’ and for ‘diversity.’”
The complete email District Board member Dong sent to her colleagues, the Lynnwood City Council and Mayor is at the end of this article.
Background leading up to allege discrimination at Lynnwood Luau
On July 11, The District Board members unanimously approved a vote of no confidence, of Dong for her support of Olympus Spa — a District business currently entangled in a legal battle regarding a Human Rights Complaint.
Pope cited Dong’s “promotion” of rally in support of Olympus Spa on her social media as a cause of her no confidence vote — which The District alleges cost businesses approximately $35,000 in lost revenue and the District up to $12,500 in protest management. The District never reached out to Dong requesting that 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, a Software Engineer, 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.
On July 21, a letter sent to Lynnwood Mayor Christines Frizzell, City Council, and The District Board members from Citizen Action Defense Fund, outlined potential legal concerns regarding The District’s Board members’ no confidence vote on July 11 against Dong.
“The Board’s actions towards the only member of the Asian community raise serious questions of whether its actions were motivated with animus against Ms. Dong’s race and national origin in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII),” Jackson Maynard, author of the letter and Executive Director and Counsel for Citizen Action Defense Fund states.
In the letter, Maynard cited a possible retaliatory motive by The District’s Board and a “strong likelihood that violations of the state Open Public meetings act occurred” as additional justification for their investigation into the actions by Pope and the Board towards fellow Board member Vivian Dong. To view the letter in its entirety, click here.
Citizen Action Defense Fund is now investigating this latest incident of alleged discrimination against Dong by both Pope and Miller. The Lynnwood Times will be reaching out to The District for their account of events.
Dong’s email of alleged discrimination against The District Chair and Executive Director
“I’m documenting and sharing what happened during the Lynnwood LUAU event yesterday 8/19. I was very excited about the event before yesterday and enthusiastically shared the details with many friends and families, all of whom were eager to attend. Unfortunately, I’m deeply disappointed that certain individuals at the Lynnwood PFD treated the situation as a political power play rather than prioritizing the community and the vision of the PFD. The level of hostility, threat, and discrimination I experienced during the event as a PFD board member has left me in shock. Below is my recollection of what transpired at the event.
“Upon arriving at the event around 3:15 PM yesterday 8/19, I walked around the booths, took a few pictures, and enjoyed the festivities. When I arrived at the Lynnwood PFD booth, I introduced myself and offered to help and engage with people. I stayed at the booth to assist with games, hand out flyers, and communicate with residents and attendees, many of whom did not speak English and preferred to communicate in Mandarin. I answered various questions about Maui donation details, Luau event details, future LPFD plans, and upcoming events in the Lynnwood event center. There was plenty of room in the PFD booth, and there were several times that I was the only one or one of the two people in the booth. At no point was I told that this booth was for staff only.
“Everything was great until around 4 pm, there was a Seattle Times journalist who came up to the booth and wanted to learn more about the event. I introduced myself and she then asked two questions about the Maui donations, and then one of the PFD staff rushed to answer the questions. I did not say anything else and thanked the journalist, who left the booth. Immediately after this short interaction, Director Pope came over to the booth, stood right next to me, and told me that she wanted to stand there. She then repeatedly asked me to leave the booth. She stood next to me and leaned against me, trying to push me out of the booth with her body. The contact was making me feel very uncomfortable. I asked why I was not allowed to be there and expressed my goal to talk to the community and gather first hand feedback from residents and attendees. Director Pope pointed to a corner outside the booth, telling me to go there if I wanted to talk to people. She then left, and another lady came over, wanting to talk about event planning. I told her I was busy helping with the event but would gladly talk later. She insisted on talking to me outside of the booth, at which point, I realized this was another attempt to remove me. During this conversation, several residents, including elderly individuals, asked me about upcoming events in Chinese, which I gladly helped answer.
“Mike Miller, the PFD Board Chair, then showed up and aggressively told me to leave, ignoring my explanation of the community’s need for my assistance, particularly among non-English speakers in the Asian community. I repeatedly asked him why he would want me to leave when I saw a true need to help those who don’t understand English but want to learn more about the PFD. He responded twice, “No, we don’t need your help.” When I said there are many people who support me and want to talk to me, Miller said “there is no one here who truly wants you here”, not only ignored the evident support I have from Asian residents but also belittled my role as a community leader. He later made discriminatory remarks about the way I speak. Chair Miller’s tone was threatening, aggressive, and made me extremely uncomfortable. As Chair Miller’s loud voice began attracting attention, I chose to step out of the booth, prioritizing the event’s success. After I stepped outside, I noticed them rearranging the booths and taking away the PFD booth table. The event manager was talking to two Lynnwood PD officers but I could not hear what they were discussing. I left the event shortly after.
“I’m deeply disappointed, shocked, and traumatized by what happened, that despite my best intention to serve the community, I was attacked and treated like this. As a board member, I was there doing my job, as part of my responsibilities to attend events and act as community ambassador, especially for the underrepresented Asian demographics. I saw a true need from those who do not speak English and I was connecting them to the LPFD and our upcoming events.
“It’s disappointing that the PFD Director and Chair chose to treat the job as a political power struggle rather than putting the common interest of the PFD first. By disregarding the opinions and needs of Asian residents in Lynnwood and undermining their community leader, Miller’s comments and actions send a disheartening message that the voices of the Asian community do not matter to him, hinting at a broader issue of discrimination towards Asian people, especially Chinese Americans. Their actions reflected a complete disregard for the code of ethics, and I am both sorry and shocked that this has occurred in a public space devoted to community engagement. I cannot help but think about what Council Member George Hurst mentioned in the previous city council meeting: that community members who stepped up to serve on the board are not treated nicely or with respect, and that’s why people are hesitant to come forward. This is exactly what happened with the Lynnwood PFD Board: the series of attacks against me, starting from the July board meeting, the letter of accusation with no investigation or proof, the discriminatory comments at the subsequent Lynnwood city council meeting, and the Lynnwood Luau event yesterday. It’s shocking and horrifying that an Asian woman who stepped up to represent and serve her community and culture got threatened and bullied like this by the very same people who claimed that they are ‘inclusive’ and for ‘diversity’.
“As part of the email, I’ve attached links to video recordings from the incident as proof below. I’ve also cc’d the Lynnwood City Mayor, Lynnwood City Council, the entire Lynnwood PFD Board, PFD Director, my legal counsel Jackson Maynard from Citizen Action Defense, and the Lynnwood Times on this email.
“Thank you, Vivian Dong”