WashCo commissioners demand release of full report into chair
Washington County has released a condensed report summarizing the facts of an internal investigation into Chair Kathryn Harrington's conduct, which current and former employees describe as unprofessional.
The report details what was told to an independent investigator, as well as Harrington's response to the allegations of workplace harassment. But the condensed version contains no conclusions by the investigator, nor any determination of whether Harrington violated county policy during these incidents — which was the primary purpose of the independent investigation.
The condensed report also does not state how many employees were interviewed or what the scope and intention of the investigation was.
Commissioners Roy Rogers and Jerry Willey say the full report should be released.
"In the condensed report, you don't have all the material," said Rogers, who is Oregon's longest-serving county commissioner. "You don't have the conclusions, and they are the conclusions of an independent party … and you don't have the summary with the suggested actions."
He said that, since taxpayer money went toward paying for this report, the full scope of information should be released publicly.
"I just think there needs to be disclosure on this," Rogers said. "Is it accurate? I don't know. But we paid $25,000 for this, so I think we need to release it. Because the public paid for it."
As for whether he would make a motion at next week's meeting of the board to release the full report, Rogers said he was still deciding.
Willey also said that the full report, which all five commissioners received this week, should be released.
"I am not in agreement with that decision and believe that this information needs to be communicated, we need to be transparent as a commission and there needs to be full disclosure," Willey said. "We can't cover up violations of our human resources policies under the secrecy of attorney-client privilege."
Asked for details of the report, Willey said the full report includes an analysis by the investigator that concluded Harrington violated county policy.
"What I will tell you is that the full report referred to specific sections of our HR policy and did she or did she not, based on his investigation, did she violate those policies?" Willey said. "There are four areas that he refers to, and his investigation said three of them were substantiated, i.e. she violated them."
The condensed report released on Friday does not contain such an analysis.
Willey declined to provide the full report to the News-Times, saying he wants to wait until after the commissioners discuss the matter with the county's legal counsel.
He said he asked for an executive session to be called at next week's meeting of the board to discuss the matter.
Other commissioners could not be reached in time for this report or declined to comment due to confidentiality concerns.
The condensed report contains details from interviews that examined four separate allegations: that Harrington engaged in disrespectful, abusive and unprofessional language about an employee in the workplace; that Harrington was yelling and engaging in unprofessional and disrespectful conduct towards an employee; that Harrington used disrespectful body language towards employees and others during meetings; and that Harrington engaged in intimidation, condescension and/or rudeness towards county employees.
The investigation, conducted by Michael V. Tom of Northwest Workplace Investigations, was paid for by the county after asettlement was made with Harrington's former chief of staff, who alleged similar issues with Harrington's hostile workplace behavior.
The county settlement included $80,000 in lost wages, as well as benefits and legal fees. The settlement stated that neither party — Myers nor the county — can say disparaging things about the other.
The condensed report describes an incident in which Harrington was upset over county employees meeting with city officials without her knowledge. When Harrington brought this up to the employee, they reportedly said, "Oh, OK, sure."
That employee then described hearing Harrington through the wall of her office, which was shared with the employee's own office, telling an administrator, "When (employee's name) said, 'Yes,' I know she was thinking, 'F*** you.'"
Harrington's response to this is outlined, saying that she was on a video conferencing call with a county administrator and that she did categorize the employee's response as, "That was like a f*** you from (impacted employee's name)."
It also states that the county installed soundproofing on the walls in response to this incident.
The report makes no other determination of whether this conduct was in violation of county workplace policies.
Under section 300 of Washington County's administrative policies, verbal harassment is listed under possible types of workplace harassment. Verbal harassment is defined as "unwelcome epithets, derogatory comments, slurs, propositioning, or otherwise offensive words or comments. Unwelcome verbal harassment may also include inappropriate comments on appearance, including dress or physical features, sexual rumors, code words, and derogatory stories."
The second incident outlined in the report is one that closely aligns with the legal complaint filed by Elizabeth Mazzara Meyers, Harrington's former chief of staff who left the county's employment following a June 2021 incident.
The incident is described in the condensed report as Harrington being upset by an employee sending the wrong version of a letter to the Metro Council — one that was inconsistent with the Harrington's actual position and testimony.
"The mistake and incident reportedly publicly embarrassed the chair," the report says. "The reporting employee alleged that upon discovering the mistake, the chair yelled … and raised her voice at them."
The employee then raised allegations to the county administrator and human resources department that Harrington created an abusive workplace environment, the report says.
The report says that witness statements included that the employee was seen upset and sobbing following the incident.
This is the same account detailed in Myers' legal complaint against the county, which resulted in the settlement last year.
The third allegation detailed in the report pertains to whether Harrington used disrespectful body language towards employees and others during meetings.
Witnesses told the investigator that Harrington often indicates disinterest or makes statements expressing frustration with presenters or moves onto other agenda items when she doesn't agree with a topic or feels that a meeting is not going according to the agenda.
Those interviewed said that Harrington has been seen using expressive faces, rolling her eyes, sighing heavily, putting her hand on her head, or shutting down with crossed arms and sitting back when unhappy in meetings.
Harrington's response in the report is to say that she "tries to catch herself from using the alleged body language." She said that on one occasion, another commissioner called her out as not agreeing with a conversation point because of Harrington's "apparent facial or body language during the meeting."
The final allegation detailed in the condensed report investigates whether Harrington intimidated, condescended or was rude to county employees.
Witnesses told the investigator that Harrington's behavior "can be hostile and abusive and beyond unprofessional." They said specifically that she can be condescending, belittling, and berating when she disagrees with people or is displeased in their performance.
Some said that Harrington "lacks emotional intelligence" and that "she could benefit from a coach that would provide honest feedback."
Other witnesses said that, while "she does not have a great filter and is blunt and direct," they have not seen her engage in any unfair or disrespectful behaviors. Some also said that Harrington "is brilliant, has good ideas and is good for the county, but her behavior needs to change."
Employees said that they confronted Harrington about her behavior and that she did not engage in the behavior again. Witnesses said they noticed improvements over the past few months, with Harrington becoming "more supportive" and "over-the-top intentional" to show kindness towards others.
Harrington responds in the report by saying that she is not rude and does not interrupt employees. She claimed that no one told her that any county employee felt bullied or intimidated or had cried and felt fearful in their job because of her alleged behaviors.
In a statement emailed to Pamplin Media Group on Friday afternoon, April 1, Harrington again said that this report was the first time she had some of these complaints detailed to her.
"I believe that feedback is a gift. This summary includes observations and sentiments that I have not previously had the benefit of hearing regarding the work environment of the Board of Commissioner-County Administrative Offices," the statement reads. "I respect this feedback, and the people involved. I am grateful to know of this and to have the opportunity to evolve as a human, working on progress moving forward."
Harrington also expressed remorse for her behavior leading to hurt feelings.
"I take no comfort in hurting anyone's feelings. I'm truly sorry that I've done that," her statement says. "I also wish to commend our county administrative officer for advancing the workplace culture and expectations for an efficient, effective agency focused on implementing best practices in government. I'm grateful for their work."
When reached on Friday afternoon, Tom, the investigator, said he couldn't comment on the investigation and referred questions to the Washington County Counsel's Office. The county attorney did not return a request for comment in time for this article.
County officials acknowledged that there is a full report but did not elaborate on what information was withheld in the condensed report. Pamplin Media Group was not able to obtain a copy of the full report in time for this article.
In refusing to release the full report, the county cited Oregon statutes related to attorney-client privilege.
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