Accusation: Portland employee sent 'glitter bomb' to newspaper publisher
The city of Portland is investigating whether one of its employees sent a "glitter bomb" to a neighborhood newspaper publisher in retaliation for an unfavorable article.
A "glitter bomb" is a package that can be sent through the mail and can spray whoever opens it with glitter. Although sold commercially as a prank, some have reportedly harmed those who opened them when the internal springs that expel the glitter malfunctioned or when the glitter was inhaled.
According to interviews and public records, a supervisor in the Office of Community and Civic Life is investigating an employee with its Noise Control Program over an allegation that she sent such a package to NW Examiner Publisher Allan Classen in early 2019.
The NW Examiner is a monthly newspaper serving the neighborhoods of Northwest and inner Southwest Portland. It was founded in 1986 by Classen, who serves as editor and publisher.
Classen tells the Portland Tribune that he received a mailing tube that spewed glitter when his wife opened it. He shared an email obtained through a public records request that says such an allegation against Katherine Couch were discussed by city human resources officials, a union representative and others before March 2020. Couch works for the Noise Control Program.
The email includes a link to a January 2019 NW Examiner article written by Classen headlined "City resists pile-driving noise reform." It accused then-program director Kenya Williams of supporting pile driving over the quieter augering — or drilling — alternative.
Michael Montoya, the Office of Community and Civic Life strategy, innovation and performance manager, told the Portland Tribune he is currently supervising such an investigation, but declined to name the employee. He would not estimate when it would be finished.
Contacted by the Tribune, Couch declined to comment.
Classen said he did not originally take the incident seriously, saying no one was hurt and that it is not unusual for him to receive phone calls or emails from people angered about his articles. He suspected it was related to the pile driving story because it included a note that read "Auger this."
Several months later, Classen said several people involved in the city neighborhood system — which the OCCL assists — asked him about it. They had heard rumors that someone with the office, which includes the Noise Control Program, had sent the "glitter bomb" in retaliation for an article, and that other employees in the office were aware and talking about it.
At the time, Couch worked for Williams.
Classen submitted the public records request earlier this year that produced copies of two March 4, 2020, emails. Both were from Shane Davis with the city's Bureau of Human Resources to Montoya and labeled "Confidential."
The first said a transcript of part of an interview about Couch and the allegation was attached, although Classen did not receive the attachment. It said the interview involved Davis, another human resources employee, and a union representative. Two names and part of a sentence were redacted.
The second email include a link to the NW Examiner article. "I found the NW Examiner article written by Classen — January 2019 issue," Davis wrote.
In both emails, Davis said he would follow up with Montoya.
The OCCL is overseen by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. In response to an inquiry from the Tribune, Marshall Runkel, her chief of staff, said, "Our office hasn't been involved in this matter at all. I've heard rumors about it, but that's about it."
The City Ombudsman Office received a large number of complaints regarding OCCL employees last fall. They included what the ombudsman described as an "unprecedented" number of discrimination and hostile work environment complaints. One also reported the "glitter bomb" allegation.
The ombudsman recommended Eudaly initiate an independent review of the personnel complaints, but requested OCCL investigate the "glitter bomb" complaint within the existing personnel system. The independent review is being conducted by the ASCETA consulting firm.
Eudaly is running for reelection against Mingus Mapps, a former OCCL employee. Mapps said he was fired from the office after refusing to discipline an employee he felt did not deserve to be punished.
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.