Director Suk Rhee is leaving Portland’s Office of Community & Civic Life.
That’s according to an email sent Thursday morning by City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty to Civic Life employees.
Hardesty wrote: “Later this morning [Rhee] and myself will be announcing [her] transition away from Civic Life. I want to publicly thank Director Rhee for her service, her passion and her accomplishments—of which I know there are many.”
Hardesty added, “I know that Civic Life has experienced years of transition and that this additional change may be stressful, but I look forward to working with all of you to continue to co-create a bureau that has alignment with its mission as well as improving workplace culture.”
The announcement comes two days after the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office ordered that a consultant’s report on problems at the bureau be released to WW and Oregon Public Broadcasting, among others. The city had denied requests for the report, citing attorney-client privilege. Hardesty’s office did not immediately respond to questions whether the city would appeal the decision. (Update: In an email to the DA’s office, a city attorney says the city intends to release the audit.)
The Office of Community & Civic Life, once called the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, has been racked by management problems. The bureau was assigned to City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly shortly after she was first elected in 2016. She renamed the bureau and attempted to shift its focus away from neighborhood associations toward a more inclusive civic mission. But controversies at the bureau led to her defeat for reelection in November by a former Civic Life employee, Mingus Mapps.
The decision by the mayor to assign the bureau to Hardesty this year suggested the bureau would continue to move toward that more inclusive mission.
Indeed, Hardesty publicly praised changes at the bureau in her announcement to the press this morning.
“As a result of her efforts, Civic Life is poised to lead collaboration directly with impacted communities and constituencies and with other City bureaus to develop more equitable processes and outcomes,” Hardesty said of Rhee. “The transformation from the Office of Neighborhood Involvement to the Office of Community & Civic Life enables us to take on new efforts and partnerships for these challenging times.”
Earlier this year, OPB reported discontent among bureau staff who complained to Hardesty that its management was abusive.
“The general theme was intimidation,” Hardesty told OPB in March. “I had people say they had been in staff meetings where most of the people left crying in tears. I heard people are bullied. They are just not treated like the professional adults that they should be treated like.”
Suk Rhee became director of the bureau in 2017. In publicly announcing her departure to the press, Hardesty and Rhee cited notable investments by the bureau, including in the 2020 Census ($600,000) and universal legal representation against deportation during the Trump administration ($500,000).
“The pandemics of racism and COVID-19 have once again exposed how our society works and what transformation is necessary and possible through community leadership for justice,” Rhee said in a statement. “There is a time and season for everything; this part of the journey is over, the next begins.”