More than 20 women leaders and advocacy groups have mailed Portland Mayor Charlie Hales a blistering letter demanding he take immediate "corrective action" against top aide Baruti Artharee for inappropriate behavior toward Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith.
WW has obtained a copy of the letter, which is signed by former and current public officials including former U.S. Congresswoman Darlene Hooley (D-Oregon), former state Senator Margaret Carter (D-Portland), State Representatives Shemia
Fagan, Jessica Vega-Peterson and Jennifer Williamson, and Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury.
The 23 signatories also include the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women.
The letter says that by not taking action against Artharee immediately after his comments toward Smith on June 6, Hales has created a climate where sexual harassment is acceptable.
"As word of Baruti Artharee’s sexually suggestive and demeaning public comments toward Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith spread throughout our community earlier this month, many people were disgusted," the letter begins. "That disgust has turned into outrage as your office and the City of Portland have failed to make strong and decisive statements against gender discrimination."
The officials sent the letter late this afternoon, more than three weeks after Artharee made suggestive comments and gestures toward Smith at a June 6 event for leaders of the African-American and other minority communities. The mayor has kept Artharee on the job while the city's Human Resources Office conducts an investigation.
The letter says women across Oregon are outraged that Artharee is still actively working in the mayor's office.
"We are most disappointed by your office’s slow response to this matter and your failure to contact Commissioner Smith immediately following the incident," the letter says. "What are residents of Portland to think when the mayor does not take the time to contact a colleague who was sexually harassed by a member of his staff? Some may come to the conclusion that harassment is not a big deal or that harassing certain women is just fine. Portland is Oregon’s largest, most influential city. The inaction by your office reverberates across the state – to women and men, the harassed and the harassers."
Artharee is Hales' public safety adviser, which makes him the mayor’s liaison to the Portland Police Bureau. Part of his job is to help the bureau address long-standing civil rights problems.
On June 6, he represented the mayor at an event at Quartet Restaurant on the Riverfront, where people in attendance say he commented over a microphone on Smith's physical appearance and made a suggestive motion with his hips.
The city's human resources officer, Anna Kanwit, began an investigation on June 11. But Hales has kept Artharee on the job during that investigation, including a public role.
Atharee is serving on a homelessness task force Hales convened last week. And as the mayor led a police march to clear Last Thursday revelers from Alberta Street on June 27, Artharee walked beside him.
Hales spokesman Dana Haynes tells WW this evening that the mayor's office had not yet read the letter.
"Mayor Hales apologized to Commissioner Smith," Haynes says. "The mayor's chief of staff apologized to Commissioner Smith. Baruti apologized to Commissioner Smith. The mayor then requested an investigation by the HR department to see if this is a violation of our harassment policy. The mayor is not interfering with the HR department in any way. We look forward to seeing this letter and seeing what these signatories would like the mayor to do."
Reached by phone this evening, Smith declined comment on the letter. County spokesman David Austin says Smith is waiting for Hales to take action.
"Commissioner Smith is still waiting for the mayor's decision," says Austin. "She continues to do her work for the vulnerable populations she represents. Any questions about this should be sent to the mayor, since this is his staff."
The full text of the letter is below:
June 29, 2013
Mayor Charlie Hales
City of Portland
1221 SW 4th Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
Dear Mayor Hales,
As word of Baruti Artharee’s sexually suggestive and demeaning public comments toward Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith spread throughout our community earlier this month, many people were disgusted. That disgust has turned into outrage as your office and the City of Portland have failed to make strong and decisive statements against gender discrimination.
This incident deserves the additional attention it is getting -- not just because an elected public official was sexually harassed by a city employee who was representing your office but because of its high profile. There was a unique opportunity to use it for the better, to “see it, name it” as the campaign slogan goes, to make very clear - publicly – that this behavior is unacceptable because it degrades women, making it harder for us to be seen as competent, respected professionals (whatever we look like) instead of sexual objects.
The kind of behavior Commissioner Smith was subjected to publicly in a professional setting occurs every day. And it isn’t acceptable in Portland or anywhere else. If an elected official can be sexually harassed in public without repercussions, it implies that harassment against other women will be tolerated. The tepid response by the Office of Equity may serve to discourage other women who are employed by the City of Portland from bringing forward issues related to racial discrimination, gender bias and sexual harassment. If the official standard, as stated by Dante James, is that an apology is enough for the issue to be resolved, we have a serious systemic problem on our hands.
We are most disappointed by your office’s slow response to this matter and your failure to contact Commissioner Smith immediately following the incident. What are residents of Portland to think when the mayor does not take the time to contact a colleague who was sexually harassed by a member of his staff? Some may come to the conclusion that harassment is not a big deal or that harassing certain women is just fine. Portland is Oregon’s largest, most influential city. The inaction by your office reverberates across the state – to women and men, the harassed and the harassers.
Furthermore, it is problematic that an employee whose role it is to advise the police bureau on community relations is incredibly tone deaf when it comes to appropriate behavior toward women.
We call on you to lead by example by issuing a formal apology to Commissioner Smith and making a public statement expressing zero tolerance for sexual harassment. In addition, we urge the City of Portland to show its commitment to eradicating sexual harassment by including gender discrimination in the charter of the Office of Equity and Human Rights and by providing more rigorous anti-discrimination training to all City of Portland employees. Finally, we recommend that corrective action be taken with Baruti Artharee immediately – because without that, the consequences of sexual harassment are clear: there are none.
National Organization for Women, Oregon Chapter
Former United States Congresswoman Darlene Hooley
Former Oregon State Senator Margaret Carter
Former Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz Walsh
Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury
Oregon State Representative Shemia Fagan
Oregon State Representative Jessica Vega-Peterson
Oregon State Representative Jennifer Williamson
Tualatin City Councilor Joelle Davis