Unwavering Support for Smith
Leaders say county chair led biased investigation
Michael Leighton | 6/23/2017, 11:32 a.m.
Editor's Note: This story is updated with response from Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury:
An esteemed group of African American leaders issued a rebuke to Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury Tuesday saying the findings of wrongdoing in a county-led human resources investigation against County Commissioner Loretta Smith were unsubstantiated and instead were a political and racist attack against Smith, the only black member of the county commission.
A letter addressed to Kafoury by the group “reaffirms the community’s unwavering commitment to Commissioner Smith and highlights the county’s flawed investigation.”
Smith has been fighting allegations of inappropriate behavior by two former employees since the beginning of the year, denying that she made demeaning statements and was harsher in the treatment of the female and women of color staffers who worked for her.
The community leaders were strongly critical of Kafoury’s role in the investigation and said Smith was not afforded due process.
“This unseemly process surrounding unsubstantiated charges and allegations about Commissioner Smith have been the worst sort of political and racist attack, thinly veiled as a human resources investigation, indeed a modern day political lynching. We are not going to stand by while one of our best and brightest is maligned,” said the rebuke.
“Our community has fought long and hard for African Americans, elected or not, to receive equal treatment under the law and we are outraged that did not occur under your leadership,” the leaders added. “We will continue to be vocal in our enduring support of this woman who has dedicated her entire professional life to public service, to the betterment of our youth, and to all of Multnomah County.”
The letter was signed by former Sen. Avel Gordly, Albina Head Start Executive Director Ron Herndon, Self Enhancement, Inc. President Tony Hopson, African American Alliance Co-Chairs Lolenzo Poe and Joyce Harris; and Albina Ministerial Alliance Chair and Co-chair Dr. Rev. LeRoy Haynes Jr. and Dr. Rev. T. Allen Bethel.
Kafoury could not be reached for comment, but defended the investigation earlier.
Update: The following statement has been received from Chair Deborah Kafoury in response to inquires from news reporters and editors asking for comment on the above matter:
"Beginning in January, two current and former staff members made serious allegations that Commissioner Loretta Smith had misused county resources and bullied her staff.
Under our rules, the county has a process to thoroughly investigate personnel complaints. We followed that process. As the Multnomah County Chair and Chief Executive Officer, I have an obligation to all employees to maintain a respectful, professional and harassment-free workplace.
Commissioner Smith herself publically asked that the county investigate these allegations.
We were extremely careful with how we proceeded. The county contracted with an independent third-party investigator specializing in employment law. The county also hired an attorney to represent Commissioner Smith in these matters. Finally, Commissioner Smith received an advance copy of the investigator’s final report and she had the opportunity to respond.
In light of what is happening in our country right now, we at Multnomah County take issues of race, gender and religion extremely seriously and strive to ensure that our workplace is free of discrimination. My duty is to ensure that process is followed, regardless of whether those involved are an elected official or line staff.
This isn’t about the Commissioner's race, it’s about ensuring Multnomah County has a professional and respectful workplace for everyone."