Dante James’ last day as director of Portland’s Office of Equity and Human Rights will be Friday, the mayor’s office announced last week in a press release.
James told The Oregonian he has decided to leave Portland so he could pursue options in Denver, where his wife and son live.
The equity office was created in 2011 and James was hired in 2012.
"Dante's work was instrumental in creating the budget equity tool, and our plan to enhance equitable workforce development in city construction projects through the Community Equity and Inclusion Plan, which was unanimously adopted by (the) city council this year, among many accomplishments," Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a statement. "His leadership at the helm of (the equity office) will be missed."
In 2014, James was the subject of a sexual harassment investigation regarding comments on a subordinate’s appearance. City investigators substantiated one allegation by a subordinate but dismissed eight others; they also found he had made some “generally unprofessional” comments in front of employees that did not violate city rules.
In 2013, The Skanner published an editorial from publisher Bernie Foster criticizing James’ effectiveness and saying the narrow scope of the office’s work did not reflect what activists had pushed for.
“We appreciate being invited to meet with the Equity director, but we are not impressed by his work so far -- which appears to involve filling shelves full of policy binders and talking with bureaucrats,” Foster wrote.
James responded with a letter to the editor, defending his agency’s work improving the relationships between city bureau’s and communities of color, and saying the office was not created to handle civil rights complaints from the general public.
“OEHR was never intended to function as a civil rights office,” James wrote. “State and City agencies already exist that handle discrimination complaints, including a Civil Rights Compliance Officer within the City of Portland's Office of Management and Finance. OEHR refers complaints to those agencies, and will increase publicity to facilitate direct access to them.”
Koffi "Jean-Pierre" Dessou, who is currently a program director at the equity office will serve as interim bureau director. Dessou, who emigrated to Portland from Togo in 2008, has created training and education programs and co-facilitated training sessions for directors.
James is the seventh city bureau director to leave since January, and one of two to depart the city last week: Portland Housing Bureau Kurt Creager was also ousted last week. Creager will receive $96,715 in severance pay and waived his right to sue the city for age discrimination or any other reason. James will not receive severance. James is also one of two African Americans to leave a city bureau this year: Commissioner Chloe Eudaly ousted Bureau of Development Services director Paul Scarlett in April.