Report describes 'fear' of Harrington among WashCo employees
A new version of the report filed by an investigator into Kathryn Harrington's alleged workplace conduct paints a more complete picture of employees' concerns and complaints about the Washington County chair.
The county initially released a "condensed" report based on what investigator Michael V. Tom of Northwest Workplace Investigations found as he investigated allegations against Harrington. Last week, in response to an appeal from Pamplin Media Group seeking the full report, the Washington County District Attorney's office ruled the condensed version "omitted significant findings" of the full report.
The latest version provided to Pamplin Media Group appears to be the full report with significant redactions. Most notably, it appears any sections with Tom's analysis or recommendations for county leaders have been blacked out, meaning the report mostly consists of summaries of witnesses' remarks about Harrington, followed by summaries of Harrington's responses and statements to the investigator.
The DA's decision allowed the county to redact some parts of the report, including the investigator's determinations and analysis of whether Harrington's behavior violated policy. The decision states these are privileged and exempt from disclosure.
County Commissioners Roy Rogers and Jerry Willey — the board's two conservative members — said before the ruling that the full report states Harrington violated county policy. The District Attorney's Office said that disclosure doesn't void attorney-client privilege, which the county has claimed in redacting parts of the report. The version of the report provided to Pamplin Media Group on Monday, April 18, does not include Tom's conclusions as to whether Harrington did violate county policy.
"I think that the newly released information is much better than the initial summary report in that it gives more of the vivid details," said Willey in a follow-up interview. "What has been redacted of course has been deemed attorney-client privilege, so I think what the reader will do is come to their own conclusions as to whether the actions of the chair were appropriate or not."
Some of the specifics of Tom's investigation include which potential policy violations he examined and the number of witnesses he interviewed. Tom spoke with 21 people, according to the report.
While the condensed report didn't address whether Harrington's behavior has led to people leaving the county's employment, the full report strongly suggests that it did.
The full report is 10 pages long, about twice the length of the condensed version. It adds a significant amount of missing context to many of witnesses' comments about Harrington — including several cases in which positive statements included in the condensed report were actually couched with negative observations about Harrington's behavior, which were omitted.
The condensed report notes a situation where Harrington was disrespectful toward a now-former employee "because of her power differential with the employee." However, the condensed report omits a section that describes how this wasn't an isolated incident.
Another witness said that Harrington's conduct and behavior were a "resource and energy suck."
One of the allegations centers around an incident in which the wrong version of a presentation before the Metro Council was provided to Harrington, leading to a blow-up in the county administrative offices. Harrington felt embarrassed and frustrated that the wrong report was given, which didn't accurately detail the county's perspective, while the county employee reportedly tried to downplay the mistake by saying "it was a small matter." Several witnesses gave their account of overhearing Harrington dress down the at-fault staffer. One described Harrington's tone as "maniacal screaming that escalated to abuse," while another characterized it as "yelling and a commotion."
Another witness said that the county administrator, Tanya Ange, had to talk with Harrington for two hours in her office in order to calm her down.
Harrington denied "yelling or screaming" when interviewed by Tom, according to the report, although she admitted her tone was "animated."
While the report does not name employees or witnesses, other than Harrington herself, the incident as described correlates strongly with what an attorney for former Harrington chief of staff Elizabeth Mazzara Myers described in a letter to the county's attorney last year. The county ended up settling with Mazzara Myers, paying her nearly $80,000 after she left the county's employment. In that settlement, the parties agreed to a mutual non-disparagement clause, prohibiting them from speaking negatively of one another.
There are three other references in the report to an interviewed employee saying that they left — or know someone who left — the county's employment because of Harrington's behavior and fears of retaliation.
One section that appears in both versions of the report contains quotes saying that Harrington is "brilliant, has great ideas and is good for the county."
That section in the full report goes on to say, "She doesn't have to destroy careers to do it and people are leaving or don't want to work with her." That remark was left out of the condensed report, which makes no mention of employees leaving because of Harrington's conduct.
The condensed report also omits a section in the full report that details how Harrington allegedly retaliated against staffers who displeased her. In one instance, witnesses told the investigator that Harrington told a staffer to sit against the wall during a meeting, rather than at the conference table, and made it clear the employee was not welcome.
One witness quoted in the full report described Harrington's behavior as hostile, abusive and "way beyond unprofessional." They described her conduct as "trauma, fear-based 'Devil Wears Prada' behaviors that put everyone on alert."
For her part, Harrington told Tom she was unaware that any employees felt bullied or intimidated by her, the report states.
"In response to allegations that she is condescending or disrespectful, Chair Harrington reported that she has high expectations and expects high quality and accountability from county employees," Tom wrote.
It remains unclear what, if anything, county commissioners plan to do about Harrington's behavior.
Commissioners met twice in the past two weeks to discuss these matters in executive session, but the contents of these meetings are confidential and not open to the public.
The county has another executive session scheduled this week to discuss information or records that are exempt from public disclosure.
Washington County commissioners could not be reached in time for comment on this report on Monday, April 18.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with quotes from Washington County Commissioner Jerry Willey.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.