A week after a desk clerk accused Portland Police Chief Derrick Foxworth of sexual harassment, one question is percolating to the surface: How did Foxworth's dirty little secret stay hidden for so long?

Even in a city where it took 30 years to reveal ex-Gov. Neil Goldschmidt's abuse of a 14-year-old girl, it's hard to believe no one heard any chatter about the encounters Angela Oswalt lays out in a legal notice warning the city of her plans to sue.

The nine-page document, which includes horny emails the chief allegedly wrote Oswalt, says Police Bureau associates helped orchestrate the courtship six years ago when Foxworth was married and a commander in Northeast Precinct.

Later, Oswalt alleges, other police supervisors intimidated her with suggestions they knew about the affair. On Tuesday, the scandal reached the point that Mayor Tom Potter put Foxworth on administrative leave.

Whispers about the chief and a blonde even wafted to WW, although the police reporter here at the time didn't know her name or that she worked in the bureau (for more, see www.wweek.com/editorial/3222/7416).

Charlie Makinney, who worked as a liaison to the Police Bureau for mayors Vera Katz and Potter, calls it the "best-kept secret I know of."

Makinney says he hasn't talked to anyone who knew the story before last week. "If the rumor had come up that he was having an affair with a desk clerk, that would have raised eyebrows," he adds. "But then people would have gone, 'Uh. They're adults.'"

The police tradition of solving problems internally jibes with permissive local attitudes toward sex.

While Portlanders may be provincial, their civic leaders tolerate the kinky. Police march with shirtless Dykes on Bikes in the Pride Parade and city Commissioner Dan Saltzman once dated a sex-worker advocate.

When Foxworth got busted previously for making thousands of dollars' worth of personal cell-phone calls, public outrage focused more on the size of the phone bill than the fact that most of the calls had been made to the then-married chief's girlfriend—who was not a bureau employee but later became his current wife.

It seems Portlanders treat their lawmen like the French treat their presidents: We shrug our shoulders about their bedroom antics.

Mayor Tom Potter, who served as police chief in the early 1990s, long endured rumors of romantic sidelines before his third, and current, marriage in 1997. Meanwhile, Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto recently entertained gossip mavens by dating the wife of prominent local businessman Jim Jeddeloh.

But it takes evidence of an abuse of power to move a rumor from conversation piece to reason for action.

And aside from the graphic bits, an abuse of power is really what Oswalt's complaint is all about, something liberal Portlanders might have less tolerance for than a little dirty language. (See page 20 for an expert literary opinion on Foxworth's purple prose.)

Oswalt's threatened lawsuit hinges on allegations that Foxworth used his power to pressure her into a relationship, then threatened and intimidated her to keep quiet. Foxworth has acknowledged that he had a "brief, but intense" relationship with Oswalt.

In a predominantly male bureau that has regular run-ins with sexual misbehavior among the ranks, it becomes difficult to determine, on rumor alone, whether a seemingly consensual liaison equals fun between grown-ups or manipulation and abuse.

Katz's former chief of staff, Judy Tuttle, who has also pleaded ignorance of the rumors, thinks all city employees have a responsibility to dig deeper.

"If you hear the rumor, you have a responsibility to check it out," Tuttle says. "In retrospect, I wish someone had come forward."

Foxworth himself seems to recognize the importance of dealing with the bureau's gender bias.

In one email cited by Oswalt's complaint, the chief sides with a female Portland police officer who accused the bureau of severe sexual harassment when she worked on an elite emergency reaction team.

"I'm right with you and totally agree 100%,'' Foxworth allegedly wrote. "Some people would say boys are being boys and that's just the way they are because they have such a dangerous job....Bullshit!!!! That is no excuse to treat people with disrespect to take away their dignity and not treat them fairly!"