2021 IN REVIEW: Fire, police leadership in Hillsboro called out
More than once this year, the lead story in the News-Times was on allegations of wrongdoing and retaliation within the city government of Hillsboro, the Washington County seat and largest city on Portland's Westside.
In April, Pamplin Media Group reported on a tort lawsuit filed in Washington County Circuit Court by three current employees of Hillsboro Fire & Rescue. They alleged that department leaders, including Fire Chief David Downey and Deputy Chief Jeff Gurske, discriminated against them and then retaliated when they raised concerns.
In one instance alleged by plaintiff Miguel Bautista, Hillsboro's deputy fire marshal, Gurske filed a public records request with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries purportedly to find out who tipped BOLI off that Hillsboro Fire wasn't properly compensating workers for on-the-job training.
In another alleged by Capt. Anne Raven, Downey refused to fire a male employee Raven had reported for sexual harassment and instead suggested Raven leave the department because it would "never be easy for (her) there."
The third plaintiff, Paul Harvey, later withdrew from the lawsuit. His claims were voluntarily dismissed by the court in September.
In May, Pamplin Media Group revisited the complaint from several weeks prior, after Downey ordered a new investigation into Raven for purchasing masks to wear in the fire station, despite that purchase having been approved by Gurske beforehand. Raven alleged that the investigation was another act of retaliation against her after she filed the complaint.
Through their attorneys, Hillsboro and the fire officials have denied most of the allegations. A trial date has been set for September 2022.
But Hillsboro Fire & Rescue wasn't the only city agency whose leaders' actions were called into question this year.
Pamplin Media Group reported in November on a BOLI complaint and allegations lodged by Cindy Young Bolek, support services manager for the Hillsboro Police Department, against Police Chief Jim Coleman and Deputy Chief Mike Leader.
Young Bolek had expressed growing dissatisfaction with how the Hillsboro Police Department managed its body-worn camera program. She told the News-Times that she alerted consultants from the OIR Group to issues and past incidents within the department while OIR was conducting an external review of Hillsboro's policies and practices earlier this year. She also said she refused to go along with an attempt by the city's risk manager and attorneys to shield the notes she made after reviewing body-cam footage from disclosure if they were brought into evidence as part of a federal lawsuit against the city.
On Oct. 2, Young Bolek notified Coleman and Leader that she planned to leave the department. In a lengthy email, she detailed her unhappiness with the police department and complained of a "lack of unified leadership and support" in the department.
Days later, Leader told Young Bolek he was placing her on administrative leave immediately until the date of her departure, as well as revoking her employee access and privileges. While Leader claimed the move was "not disciplinary in nature," Young Bolek described it to Pamplin Media Group, as well as to BOLI and Hillsboro's city manager, Robby Hammond, as retaliatory.
"If I've done nothing wrong, why would they place me on this leave?" Young Bolek asked rhetorically in an interview with Pamplin Media Group.
Young Bolek has since attempted to rescind her resignation, which is set to take effect at the start of the New Year. It's unclear whether she will be permitted to return to her duties at the Hillsboro Police Department.
This isn't Young Bolek's first tangle with superiors in Hillsboro.
Pamplin Media Group previously reported on a federal lawsuit Young Bolek filed in 2014. She alleged Ron Louie, then the acting chief of the Hillsboro Police Department, screamed at her, humiliated her and demoted her during a staff meeting the previous year, which she believed was retaliation both for Young Bolek taking medical leave to recover from a heart attack and complaining in 2012 that Hillsboro police leadership treated male and female officers differently.
While a city investigation found Louie violated Hillsboro's policy against workplace harassment, and a federal judge agreed Louie's treatment of Young Bolek was "insensitive and mean," the courts ruled against Young Bolek, finding her complaint fell short of "the rigorous standard of conduct required for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim."
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