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Monday, July 1, 2013

UPDATED: Hales Hands One-Week Suspension to Public Safety Director Over Sexual Comments

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Mon, Jul 1, 2013 at 2:27 PM

Mayor Charlie Hales today announced a one-week leave of absence without pay for Baruti Artharee, his public safety director, after a Bureau of Human Resources investigation confirmed Artharee violated city harassment policy when he made sexually suggestive comments about County Commissioner Loretta Smith at a public event last month

Artharee must also undergo invididual training on the city's harassment policy. And he's also been told he'll be fired if he does it again. Hales said he personally delivered the findings to Smith on Friday.

Read the report here (pdf). The statement by Hales is after the jump. We'll be updating in a few minutes.

Update 4:25 PM: The report explains in excruciating detaill, via witnesses from several different vantage points, the events at Quartet on June 6 that got Artharee into trouble. It found Artharee violated city harassment rules by saying "Here's our beautiful commissioner, Loretta Smith—mmm, mmm, mmm—she looks good tonight," even if, as Artharee says, he didn't mean his comments that way. Because Smith took it that way.

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It also included a finding on a separate remark made by Artharee that night, in which he described himself as a "field negro"—something investigators decided was a violation but which some witnesses said was a culturally contextual promise that Artharee wouldn't "sell out" while working in city hall. Smith was upset by the comment.

Update 4:42 PM: Smith has issued a statement in response to the findings:

“Questions about the mayor's decision regarding a person he supervises who behaves in such a negative way toward women should be directed to Mr. Hales. I feel as strongly today as I did when this incident happened more than three weeks ago—no woman should ever be subjected to this kind of behavior. And no one – especially if you’re representing an elected official like Mr. Artharee — should throw around the historically painful phrase ‘field Negro’ the way it happened at this event.

“Today’s announcement by the mayor should not change the fundamental message I have sought to convey to women, young and old, in our community: Never remain silent in the face of harassment of any kind. As a Multnomah County commissioner, I will be continuing to focus on my work helping our community's children, senior citizens, vulnerable populations and businesses to make the community a better place.”

//end update

But the report cleared Artharee of habitually breaking the rule with regards to Smith, despite her listing three other incidents in which he made her feel uncomfortable. That was because of something of a technicality: Only one of the three was substantiated as having occurred while Artharee was working for Hales.

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And it revealed that Smith was pushed by members of the African-American community and others to drop the issue, between two longstanding and well-respected community leaders, amid fears of causing a fracture.

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Hales, in his statement, tried to sound a tone of responsible action and sober-minded finality. But the fallout from his decision may yet linger. Hales says he was offered a range of options for disciplining Artharee, up to and including dismissal, but chose the one-week suspension because it's still "strict."

But almost immediately after, one of Hales' colleagues, Commissioner Nick Fish, put up a statement on his website saying Hales got it wrong by not handing down something even tougher. Fish helped tighten the city's harassment policy after what he says was an egregious case three years ago in which someone skated by with a slap on the wrist.

"The commissioner in charge gets to make these calls. But each of these cases sets a standard that all employees must follow. It's not just unique to one person. You're setting the bar for everyone else," he told the Mercury, explaining his statement. "It's the signal we send to all the women who work in the city about the conduct that's permissible in the work place."

Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, said Hales had no comment on Fish's statements. Haynes also was checking to see how many of Hales' staffers had finished harassment training that the city mandates for every new hire. It's possible all staffers have had the training, but he says "it's our belief everyone will have taken the training after" another session this month. Hales knew about the incident the day after but personally apologized the following week, after WW first reported the comments over the weekend. Hales then ordered the investigation.

Artharee's credibility in city hall and in the community were both at stake. Several witnesses confirmed his comments at Quartet, and other heard some of the other comments Smith discussed with city investigators. Some didn't hear what Artharee said. Others didn't notice a big response. But those near Smith could see she was affected.

No one confirmed that Artharee swayed his hips while complimenting Smith, but he was apparently warned by one witness, before speaking, to "don't go there." That witness, in the mayor's office, consoled Smith and was in Artharee's office the next day when he called Smith to apologize. The witness warned about "fractured" feelings in Portland's black community.

Artharee said he didn't mean the comments to be derogatory. He also denied one of the three other incidents described by Smith, that he complimented her appearance on an elevator. He also said he goes out of his way to compliment African-American women because of the way history has treated them. Again, because Smith was offended, the city set Artharee's self-professed motivations aside.

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Jo Ann Hardesty, a former state legislator who sits on the steering committee of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, says she's known Artharee for decades through their work in politics and also in the black community. Hardesty is working with Artharee and others as part of settlement talks between the AMA and the city over federal police reform.

Hardesty says she was relieved the punishment wasn't more severe, unlike Fish. She says she spoke with investigators—she was the witness who said that's how Artharee is, that he compliments people when he's feeling comfortable.

"This is Baruti," Hardesty told the Mercury. "He gives me a big hug, tells me how good I look. And I don't take offense to that at all."

Hardesty later added that "my concern was the punishment was so severe he wouldn't be able to be effective. and we need him desperately in the position he's in."

"When you're out at an event, what Baruti didn't understand and understands very clearly now is that every time he opens his mouth, he's speaking on behalf of the mayor."

Hardesty acknowledged that the comments and the investigation "certainly did cause some divisions."

But with a finding in hand and no recourse for critics to appeal, she says, "we should just move on."

Here's Hales' statement:

PORTLAND, OR – 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.

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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