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Report finds Multnomah Commissioner Loretta Smith likely misused county resources, engaged in bullying behavior
If you work for Multnomah Commissioner Loretta Smith, you'd better be ready to be prepared for her use of epithets as well as to help her with personal grooming.
That is one takeaway from a 14-page report issued Friday afternoon by Multnomah County after an outside lawyer was hired to investigation allegations by Smith's former employees.
The report, sparked by allegations reported by Willamette Week, found that most of the behavior described was not provable because it took place in one-on-one interactions with staff. But in the pattern of allegations the investigator, attorney Clarence Belnavis, found good cause to believe Smith engaged in bullying behavior and misused county staff time for campaign and personal purposes.
Based in interviews with 11 people, the report includes allegations that Smith called a fellow commissioner a "bitch," used other colorful language frequently, and commonly commented on people's weight — for instance allegedly telling one employee, "Suck your stomach in, you look pregnant. You better not be pregnant."
Smith denied all wrongdoing. But the report found that her behavior likely contributed to a high turnover among her employees.
The report found that some remarks amounting to bullying likely were made, particularly to women. The report also found that employees probably were expected to use personal vacation time inappropriately to cover Smith at campaign events.
The report highlighted her purchasing habits. In three years, 15 purchases she made using her county purchasing card were disallowed as inappropriate or unauthorized, and in fiscal year 2017, Smith claimed to have lost 27 out of 47 receipts on purchases made with the card. But because the disallowed purchases were reimbursed, no policies were violated.
Smith had earlier blamed the report on racial bias or Chair Deborah Kafoury's political motives. In a response issued Friday, Smith focused on the fact that many of the allegations could not be proven, calling the process "misguided," saying "wild claims against me were unsubstantiated."
A separate Secretary of State investigation of potential campaign finance violations by Smith is ongoing.
While many specific allegations could not be proven, the county report says the pattern of the many reports suggests Smith created a hostile and unprofessional work environment.
For instance, the report says:
-"While many allegations cannot be substantiated, it appears that Commissioner Smith created and fostered an environment in which she felt comfortable making demeaning or negative statements to and/or about female staffers in relation to their person and work."
-"What seems clear are the allegations that Commissioner Smith often requested that her female staffers groom her and do her hair ... "Commissioner Smith indicated that she is an elected official and that her staff should help her to make sure that her hair and clothes look appropriate for her to interact with the public."
-As far as Smith requiring staff to sign non-disclosure agreements, "Several of the staffers believe this was done as part of an effort by the Commissioner to prevent perceived leaks to the press."
Click here to read the Smith report.
Questionable remarks claimed
Here are some other alleged behaviors characterized as inappropriate by her employees:
-Smith allegedly "followed one staff member into the bathroom to yell at her because Commissioner Smith suspected that staff member of leaking information to the press about potential financial irregularities."
-Smith allegedly told a Muslim woman that Smith had benefited from strong women in her life, "but you would not know anything about that.
-Smith allegedly complained about someone affiliated with the Ambridge Center, "She was Mexican, probably Christian. You know how those people are."
-After a staff member announced her engagement, Smith allegedly told her, "You should not count on actually getting married."
In conclusion, the report said, "Commissioner Smith denies any wrongdoing with respect to the allegations raised against her, and this is supported by the statements of several witnesses. However, there are several staff members who have raised serious concern about their interactions with here. While many of the individual allegations could not be substantiated, it does appear that Commissioner Smith (and perhaps her chief of Staff) assumed that staff would use vacation/personal time to support the Commissioner at personal campaign advents. It also apparent that Commissioner smith routinely used staff to run minor errands for her, has a propensity to misplace her P-Card receipts ... used profanity at/with some of her staff and likely made personal statements that bordered on bullying to some staffers on cultural issues."
Chair Kafoury, in a statement, said "Multnomah County has a duty to employees to address workplace complaints. I am pleased the county's process has been followed, an investigation has been conducted and we can move forward."
The investigation cost more than $11,000, and the county also paid roughly $3,700 for Smith's lawyer.
Below is Smith's full statement released on the report:
Today, after six long months, the County released a report - at great expense to the public – that found that wild claims filed against me were unsubstantiated.
While I intend to provide a written response to Mr. Graves' letter regarding my concerns with how the entire matter was handled, including the motivations behind it, I am glad these allegations have been put to rest.
However, the public should never doubt that I let this misguided process distract me from doing the business of representing the most vulnerable in Multnomah County.
After a difficult budget season where our Board had to make some tough decisions with limited resources, I am happy to report that creating opportunities for some of our communities most vulnerable once again became a priority.
We invested in creating an additional 150 paid summer internships with Multnomah County. This coming year we will be able to help 650 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 find a paid internship that can help them get a step up - and step out - of poverty.
Just last week my office hosted a national conference bringing together County officials from around the country to discuss best practices for local government.
And I was honored to host the Reverend Jesse Jackson and coordinate several community meetings with clergy and local leaders to talk about the vicious assaults on the Max train and how we heal the City.
Multnomah County is a vibrant and exciting place but we have some big challenges. In particular our communities of color face over policing, higher sentencing rates and longer terms of incarceration. Our community has fought displacement through gentrification which is only exacerbated by the booming Portland real estate market.
We have real issues here and I have every intention of spending the next 18 months of my term taking them head on. I have been a voice for the under-served and voiceless the entirety of my 26 years in public life. I look forward to continuing this important work.