Mayor suspends aide without pay after comment toward commissioner

Mayor suspends aide without pay after comment toward commissioner
Baruti Artharee.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Mayor Charlie Hales has suspended one of his top aides without pay for one week for violating the city's policy on harassment after the Bureau of Human Resources released its findings into allegations against the aide.

The discipline for Baruti Artharee, Hale's policy director for police, housing and public safety, came after a June 6 event where Artharee made a comment toward Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith that she and others found inappropriate.

The event was held to introduce Dante James, the city's new director of the Office of Equity and Human Rights, to members mainly from the African American community.

Artharee pointed to Smith during the event and said, "Here's our beautiful commissioner, Loretta Smith – mmm, mmm, mmm – she looks good tonight."

Witnesses also said Artharee made off-color remarks while talking to people off to the side of the room. Sources told KATU Artharee 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." 

After he made the comment about Smith, Artharee apologized to her. Hales also apologized to Smith but called for an investigation by the city's human resources department into Artharee's actions.

On Monday, the mayor said in a statement the investigation concluded that Artharee's actions "were a violation of the city's policy prohibiting workplace harassment, discrimination and retaliation."

Hales said human resources laid out the options he could take with Artharee, which included a letter of reprimand, unpaid leave and termination.

Hales said he believed the action he took was appropriate. He also said Artharee offered to resign but he refused to accept it.

"I turned down his offer because I believed, and I continue to believe, that Baruti is the right person for the task at hand," Hales said. "He is providing the essential leadership needed to strengthen community credibility with our Police Bureau."

Artharee also has been ordered to take harassment classes. And Hales said he told him that future incidents of the same nature wouldn't be tolerated.

In response to Hales' decision, Smith said in a statement that women should not have to endure the kind of behavior Artharee exhibited toward her. And no one, especially someone representing an elected official, should use the phrase "field Negro" as haphazardly as Artharee did, because it is linked to a painful past for African Americans.

"Today's announcement by the mayor should not change the fundamental message I have sought to convey to women, young and old, in our community: Never remain silent in the face of harassment of any kind," she said.

Some say the mayor's actions against Artharee didn't go far enough.

Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury is one of 20 local leaders who feel that way.

"It says to women who are in our community, it doesn't matter how high you are or how much work you've done or who you are, men can still treat you any way they want and get away with it," she said.

For their report, city human resources staff interviewed 10 witnesses who were at the event. They also interviewed Artharee and Smith.

Initially, it was reported that Artharee made sexually suggestive gestures with his hips after he made his comments toward Smith. Artharee at the time said he didn't recall making those gestures.

None of the witnesses interviewed by human resources staff said they recalled Artharee making any inappropriate gestures; therefore, staff found that allegation unsubstantiated.