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Rob Drake: 'A toxic environment now exists that would discourage innovation, creativity and a committed workforce.'

PMG FILE PHOTO - Rob DrakeKnowing from personal experience, running for and being in elective office is not easy.

That said, as an elected official you should know that many sets of eyes are watching you and you need to be on your best behavior, maintain integrity and control your emotions and impulses.

Sadly, we have recently learned much more about our current county chairwoman, Kathryn Harrington.

The Pamplin publications, KOIN 6 News, former Hillsboro mayor and Metro president Tom Hughes, and the report of a third-party investigator hired by Washington County all recently detailed very negative and disappointing behavior by Chair Harrington.

Washington County has previously been successful in many ways, including having elected and appointed leaders who have provided dignified and highly effective leadership qualities. In addition, for many years Washington County has been known as the "economic engine" of Oregon. The previous internal environment for county staff members had been positive, trusting and encouraging.

According to multiple sources, a toxic environment now exists that would discourage innovation, creativity and a committed workforce.

Effective leaders build trust that models restraint with fellow employees and treats them the way we would all want to be treated. That hasn't been the case with Harrington. When she served as an elected Metro councilor, it is reported that Chair Harrington received a letter of warning from former Metro President Hughes over her treatment of a Metro employee, raising her voice to the employee and causing a scene in that person's work area. Strong and effective leaders don't behave that way.

As the county commission chair more recently, it was reported that Harrington yelled at a county employee over information she had provided to the chair for a speech and again made a scene humiliating the employee. What has happened to civility and basic respect for one another? In the end, the employee was put on leave and the chair agreed to give the employee a large financial settlement to leave without taking it to the full county commission board for approval.

Chair Harrington has been heard on multiple occasions saying that old white guys should not be in elective office and should go. That is not an appropriate leadership style. A person's gender and age should not matter. It is reported that she made similar comments to County Commissioners Roy Rogers and Jerry Willey on multiple occasions and in public.

In September, our City of Cornelius library director and I had a planned Zoom call with Chair Harrington regarding funding and equity issues for some of the libraries in the county. Though we had a reliable analysis of the funding packages that documented inequitable funding for some specific libraries, she was dismissive and rude. She was not interested in resolving the issue.

In the past, there has been a strong and respectful working relationship with past county board chairpersons and other local leaders. That isn't the case today. It is simply because she can be dismissive, rude, unwilling to find common ground and has created a toxic work environment.

She has violated our trust, expectations and the high standards that we have come to expect from our county leaders. When asked about her behavior, she refuses to answer the questions and talk about it. We deserve much better from all of our leaders.

Rob Drake is city manager of Cornelius and a former four-term mayor of Beaverton. His opinions are his own and not those of his employer.


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