Mayor Ted Wheeler has agreed to accommodate a "personal relationship" between his chief of staff, Michael Cox, and a woman who was previously supervised by Cox and continues to work for the mayor's office.
The woman reports directly to Deputy Chief of Staff Kristin Dennis and previously reported indirectly to Cox, who supervises Dennis.
Cox disclosed the relationship verbally to the mayor and the attorney for the city on Dec. 5, according to documents provided to WW and The Oregonian today. Cox's disclosure came less than two weeks after WW began making inquiries to people who might be familiar with the relationship.
The decision for a the mayor to allow a "personal relationship" to continue in his office raises questions in an era when sexual harassment and concerns about power dynamics of relationships have an increasingly elevated profile.
But City Attorney Tracy Reeve told the mayor in a formal memo on Dec. 12 that Cox's relationship did not violate the city's human-resource rules that forbid supervisors from overseeing a member of their own household or someone with whom they have a personal relationships. Cox does not share a household with the staffer.
But to avoid a conflict of interest, Reeve advised in a December 12 memo, the mayor to make changes to who supervises the employee, to "avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest and comply not only with the letter but the spirit" of the rules.
Mayor Wheeler directed Dennis and Cox and the staffer to do just that: requiring the Dennis to report directly to him on matters related to the staffer.
The mayor's office did not respond to questions about why Cox disclosed the relationship at this time.
Dennis also did not respond to a question about when the relationship began.
Cox also did not respond to a request for comment.