Sources: Aide's comments went beyond those to commissioner

Sources: Aide's comments went beyond those to commissioner »Play Video
Baruti Artharee in a KATU file photo.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The same mayoral aide who is accused of making sexually suggestive comments and gestures to a county commissioner didn't stop there.

Sources tell KATU Baruti Artharee, the man Mayor Charlie Hales named as public safety adviser in December, raised a few more eyebrows with racially sensitive comments he made the same night.

The sources say he was talking to a group of people off to the side of the room. But what he said was off color, confusing and came across as inappropriate. It was all after he dropped some jaws with the comments he made toward Commissioner Loretta Smith.

"Here's our beautiful commissioner, Loretta Smith – mmm, mmm, mmm – she looks good tonight," he said, pointing out the commissioner.

One of Artharee's jobs is to be a liaison to the police to help address civil rights issues. He was speaking at the Portland restaurant, Quartet, at an event for the new city director of Office Equity and Human Rights, which is a position created to address bias and discrimination.

After he made the comment about Smith, sources say Artharee went to the side of the room and in front of a group of people responded to a question concerning his position with the city and whether he was still a "house negro."

Two sources confirmed to KATU that Artharee responded: "I'm still a field negro, but I'm working to bring people to the big house."

Those sources tell KATU it was inappropriate and "definitely not something you say at that kind of event."

It was something that made them question Artharee's judgment, and they say what made it worse was that he didn't seem to know it came across as inappropriate.

KATU News could not reach Artharee for comment at his home on Tuesday. But a reporter did speak to his wife of 36 years at their Northeast Portland home. Just divorced this year, she said her ex-husband's comments were a shock and hurt a dear friend.

"Loretta is a friend," she said. "Loretta is a very important part of our community, so I was just very upset about it."

She said she had no idea what could have driven her husband to make the comments.

The mayor's office is now investigating.

Hales and Smith declined requests for interviews Tuesday.

The city's human resources department says there is no timeline on the investigation, but it could result in disciplinary measures for Artharee.

The mayor and Artharee each apologized to Commissioner Smith.

The mayor's office says Artharee apologized for making suggestive comments and gestures to the commissioner.

The city released a copy of Artharee's handwritten apology. It says: "Commissioner Smith: I am very sorry for my comments last Thursday evening. My intent was meant to be complimentary with humor. Clearly, I missed the mark. I am extremely sorry."

Read another perspective on this story: Those in the room question mayoral aide's judgment