Staffer Accuses County Commissioner Loretta Smith of Misusing Public Resources on Campaigns

Employee says Smith tried to get her to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Multnomah County Commissioner, District 2, Loretta Smith

An employee of Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith has written an explosive letter of complaint, alleging that Smith used public resources for political purposes—and then tried to cover her tracks by having her staff sign non-disclosure agreements.

The letter was written by Smith's policy adviser MeeSeon Kwon and obtained by WW through a public records request. In it, Kwon says that Smith required her staff to spend time helping her on campaign events for herself and at least one other candidates, Eric Zimmerman who ran for the county commission last year.

Kwon still works for Smith.

Smith declined to answer questions about the letter. "I don't talk about personnel issues," she told WW. Instead, she issued this statement:

"Last week I notified the Secretary of State's office of a complaint my office received from an employee. I have proactively requested a review of this complaint by the Secretary of State because I'm fully confident that I acted appropriately and that the complaint has no merit. Additionally I asked that the County Human Resources department do an inquiry," Smith said. "My only desire is to serve the public to the best of my ability. I take seriously the trust the public has placed in me and I work hard every day to serve my constituents."

Kwon's letter, addressed to Smith and dated Jan. 22, 2017, puts her concerns in the context of Smith's six years in office, during which time Smith has employed at least seven chiefs of staff, engaged in usually high expenditures on travel and entertainment and had her paycheck garnished for non-payment of taxes.

"When I began this position, I was aware of the extreme staff turnover in your office compared to the offices of other commissioners (losing fifteen people in an office of four)," Kwon writes. "You seem to have an explanation for each person who left—always their fault, never yours. With a year's experience, I assume that at least some of these people left for the same reasons that currently make me uncomfortable working for you."

It also accuses Smith of bullying numerous county staffers and seeking to falsify Kwon's time sheets.

But perhaps the most striking claim of Kwon's letter—and the reason it says she decided to document her concerns—is that on Jan. 20, Smith's chief of staff took the highly unusual step of asking her staff to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Such documents are all but unheard of for employees of public officials—in fact, even the rumor of non-disclosure agreements in the Trump administration caused outcry last week.

Kwon asks in the letter whether signing the non-disclosure agreement is ethical or even legal.

"I was not asked to sign one when I took this job and have never heard of a public official requiring an NDA as a condition of employment," Kwon writes. "The work of elected officials and their staff should all be public record."

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