12-02-2016  8:38 pm      •     

Mayor Hales has ordered his public safety policy advisor Baruti Artharee to take a leave of absence the week of July 4. An investigation by the Department of Human Resources found Artharee broke city policy against harassment and discrimination at an event, June 6, organized by The Skanner News.

In a statement, Hales said Artharee will lose a week of pay and will have to take training on the city's workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation policy.

"Further, I have informed Baruti no such incident in the future would be tolerated," Hales says. …"In addition to my apology to Commissioner Smith, I apologize to the community at large. Everyone deserves respect for their competence and accomplishments. Women in particular. I and my staff will treat everyone in the community with respect."

Hales released the Human Resources report, saying that while employee files are usually confidential, city leaders are held to a higher level of responsibility. Investigators interviewed nine witnesses who were present at the event and Artharee himself. They asked the witnesses about two controversial comments that Artharee made at the diversity event at Quartet restaurant.

At the event, Artharee introduced Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith saying, "Here's our beautiful commissioner, Loretta Smith. Mmm, mmm, mmm—she looks good tonight."

And in response to a comment about his position of power in the city, Artharee answered that he was still a "field negro".

According to the report, Smith told investigators she was embarrassed by the comment on her appearance.

"…she felt 'minimized' and disrespected, particularly in her role as Multnomah County Commissioner," the report says.  "She also felt Mr. Artharee was trying to make it appear he had a close relationship with the commissioner and there was an inference he was untouchable due to his position with the mayor. Commissioner Smith felt Mr. Artharee's demeanor came over as arrogant and intimidating."

Smith said Antoinette Edwards interjected to try to stop Artharee mid-comment, but he continued. She also told investigators that on three previous occasions Artharee had made similar comments about how she looked: once at an Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs event, where she was a keynote speaker and Artharee introduced her; once in an elevator with county communications director Dave Austin; and once at a gala event organized by the Delta sorority and the civic service group the LINKS.

Smith also said she'd been on the receiving end of "backlash" from some who objected to her publicly criticizing one of the city's few African American leaders. And she said she would not have made her concerns public, but once the press got the story, she had no choice.

The witnesses were not named in the report.  The concensus from the witnesses was that the comment about being a field negro was simply intended to mean Artharee would not forget his roots in the Black community.

To read the full HR investigation report click here (pdf download 133K)

Artharee admitted that he often complimented women and men on their appearance.  But he told investigators he did not intend to offend anyone and was remorseful. He said the behavior wouldn't happen again.

The investigation concluded that Artharee's comments both violated city policy.

"An introduction of an Elected Official or any person at an official event, and in one's capacity as a representative of the City, should focus only upon the person's accomplishments, not on their physical appearance," the report says.
The comment about being a field negro should be understood in its cultural context, the report says. But nevertheless it broke policy because, "...it was not conducive to creating a respectful and professional workplace, free from harassment, discrimination and retaliation…"  

Hales said Artharee had offered his resignation, but he had refused it.
"Baruti offered to resign from my staff, saying that the incident could prove to be a distraction from my priority of reforming the relationship between the police and the community. I turned down his offer because I believed, and I continue to believe, that Baruti is the right person for the task at hand. He is providing the essential leadership needed to strengthen community credibility with our Police Bureau."

Smith told The Skanner News several women had contacted her to express gratitude that she was pointing out gender discrimination. Willamette Week reported that several women legislators sent a letter to the city demanding action from Mayor Hales. Former Sen. Margaret Carter, Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury, former Oregon Rep. Darlene Hooley and Reps. Shemia Fagan, Jessica Vega-Peterson and Jennifer Williamson said many people were disgusted at comments they called, "sexually suggestive and demeaning.

Commissioner Nick Fish released a statement saying the week-long suspension was not a strong enough punishment.

"I believe a one week suspension fails to send a strong enough message that workplace harassment will not be tolerated, and that all employees of the city, regardless of their position, are required to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times," he said.
 

Mayor Hales' Press Release:

On June 6, at a public event co-sponsored by the city, Baruti Artharee, my policy director for police, housing and public safety, introduced Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith. The nature of that introduction was inappropriate.

An investigation by the city's Human Resources Department has concluded that Baruti's actions were a violation of the city's policy prohibiting workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

The day after the incident, Baruti apologized to Commissioner Smith. In the following days, so did my chief of staff, Gail Shibley. And so did I.

An investigation by the city's Human Resources Department has concluded that Baruti's actions were a violation of the city's policy prohibiting workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

The day after the incident, Baruti apologized to Commissioner Smith. In the following days, so did my chief of staff, Gail Shibley. And so did I.

Today, I am imposing on Baruti a one-week leave of absence without pay. I also am ordering him to take individualized training on the city's policy prohibiting workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation. Further, I have informed Baruti no such incident in the future would be tolerated.

I personally delivered a copy of the report to Commissioner Smith Friday morning and spoke to her regarding my decision.

A copy of the report is attached herein. The names and pronouns of the people interviewed by H.R. have been redacted.

Human Resources informed me the options included a letter of reprimand, unpaid leave of absence and dismissal. I opted for a discipline that reflects the importance of the issue to me and to the city. Though strict, this suspension is the appropriate corrective action.

There were calls for me to act before the HR investigation was complete. However, having called for an investigation, a rush to judgment on my part would not have been appropriate.

I have declined in the past to release personnel reports, and will decline to do so in the future. But this incident is different because the mayor's staff lives under a higher level of public scrutiny than do other city personnel. My release of this report does not constitute any precedent for releasing past or future reports to the public.

I will make sure that everyone on the mayor's staff is completely up-to-date on all of the city's training, in regards to harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

Baruti offered to resign from my staff, saying that the incident could prove to be a distraction from my priority of reforming the relationship between the police and the community. I turned down his offer because I believed, and I continue to believe, that Baruti is the right person for the task at hand. He is providing the essential leadership needed to strengthen community credibility with our Police Bureau.

I benefit from a strong partnership with Commissioner Smith, with the Multnomah County Commission, and with the county at large. The entire City Council, and the city of Portland, benefits from those partnerships. Commissioner Smith has been, and will continue to be, a partner in our many endeavors.

As I said from the start, this incident is a serious matter and required a serious response. That is why I handed the situation over to Human Resources for an independent analysis; why I delivered the report to the commissioner myself; and why I am releasing this information to the public.

While we cannot undo the past, we can learn from it.

In addition to my apology to Commissioner Smith, I apologize to the community at large. Everyone deserves respect for their competence and accomplishments. Women in particular. I and my staff will treat everyone in the community with respect.

 

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