Those in the room question mayoral aide's judgment

Those in the room question mayoral aide's judgment
Baruti Artharee.

PORTLAND, Ore. - They were in the room and they're still not sure to make of what they heard.

It was last Thursday evening and around 40 people had gathered at Quartet along the waterfront for an event introducing Dante James, the city's new director of the Office of Equity and Human Rights, to people in Portland.

It was supposed to be an event that left people talking about plans for the people; instead, they walked away talking about impromptu remarks made by Baruti Artharee, public safety policy director for Mayor Charlie Hales.

Five days later, they are still talking about them.

Two of the people in the room wanted the public to know what was said but only on the condition their names and positions not be used.

"He made comments that left us wondering how he misjudged what would be appropriate for such a setting," one of them said.

"Here's to our beautiful commissioner, Loretta Smith – mmm, mmm, mmm – she looks good tonight," Artharee told the crowd before making some suggestive motions with his hips.

That caused a bit of an uproar. Smith told reporters she felt diminished by the comments and no one should be subjected to what she sat through.

As it turns out, that was not the end of it.

After he finished speaking, Artharee was talking with a bunch of people off to the side of the room when he told them how a friend of his had said, now that he's working for City Hall, he's a "house negro."

Artharee said he told his friend he was wrong. "I'm still a field negro, but I'm working to bring people to the big house."

"I'm still not sure what to make of it," one person – a person of color – who was in the room at the time, told KATU. "I wasn't so much offended as I was just confused.  I’m not one hundred percent sure what he was trying to say, but I know he didn't say it well."

What has this person – and at least one other who was there who relayed their thoughts to KATU – concerned is what the two comments say about Artharee's judgment.

"I don't know him, but I have to wonder about his ability to know when something's appropriate and when it isn't," this person said. "It was the kind of comment you might hear among a small group of tight-knit friends.

"It's not something you say in a room where there are people you don't know. It's definitely not something you say in that kind of event. It just came across as inappropriate and kind of pejorative."

People who were there add that the situation was made worse by the fact that Artharee did not seem to realize the effect his comments had on the room and those in attendance.

He made the comments on Thursday. Mayor Hales was told on Friday. Loretta Smith didn't hear from the mayor or Artharee until late Monday.

"My intent was meant to be complimentary with humor," Artharee said in a handwritten note. "Clearly, I missed the mark."

So much so that the city's human resources office is now investigating the incident, though that announcement didn't happen until five days after the remarks were made.

Those in the room said they are not looking for Artharee's resignation but they are looking for him and the Mayor to be a little more aware of things.

"Did they need to wait for this to become a media-driven incident," said one of the people in the room. "It could have been handled a little better, a little quicker, with a little more awareness."