On a Thursday night in early June, City of Portland Public Safety Policy Director Baruti Artharee made sexist and inappropriate suggestions about Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith. Artharee, at the microphone at a public event, commented in Commissioner Smith’s direction, and complete with gestures, said “Here's our beautiful commissioner, Loretta Smith—mmm, mmm, mmm—she looks good tonight.”
Artharee was there, as he said, representing the Mayor, Charlie Hales.
This was not the first time Artharee had made suggestive remarks toward Commissioner Smith, but unfortunately, these were the most public. Commissioner Smith left the public event outraged (which we applaud). Several days later, and only after local citizens questioned his lack of apology, Mayor Charlie Hales finally called to apologize to Commissioner Smith on behalf of his employee.
While there is an official city investigation underway, we’ve heard little to nothing since from the Mayor’s office. What an opportunity missed.
Now, a broad cross-section of elected officials, community activists and organizational leaders are calling upon the Mayor to take immediate and substantial corrective action.
Here is our letter, sent yesterday, to the Mayor. Please join us in pushing for a more equitable and respectful city government:
June 29, 2013
Mayor Charlie Hales
City of Portland
1221 SW 4th Avenue
Portland, OR 97204
Dear Mayor Hales,
As word of Baruti Artharee’s sexually suggestive and demeaning public comments toward Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith spread throughout our community earlier this month, many people were disgusted. That disgust has turned into outrage as your office and the City of Portland have failed to make strong and decisive statements against gender discrimination.
This incident deserves the additional attention it is getting -- not just because an elected public official was sexually harassed by a city employee who was representing your office but because of its high profile. There was a unique opportunity to use it for the better, to “see it, name it” as the campaign slogan goes, to make very clear - publicly – that this behavior is unacceptable because it degrades women, making it harder for us to be seen as competent, respected professionals (whatever we look like) instead of sexual objects.
The kind of behavior Commissioner Smith was subjected to publicly in a professional setting occurs every day. And it isn’t acceptable in Portland or anywhere else. If an elected official can be sexually harassed in public without repercussions, it implies that harassment against other women will be tolerated. The tepid response by the Office of Equity may serve to discourage other women who are employed by the City of Portland from bringing forward issues related to racial discrimination, gender bias and sexual harassment. If the official standard, as stated by Dante James, is that an apology is enough for the issue to be resolved, we have a serious systemic problem on our hands.
We are most disappointed by your office’s slow response to this matter and your failure to contact Commissioner Smith immediately following the incident. What are residents of Portland to think when the mayor does not take the time to contact a colleague who was sexually harassed by a member of his staff? Some may come to the conclusion that harassment is not a big deal or that harassing certain women is just fine. Portland is Oregon’s largest, most influential city. The inaction by your office reverberates across the state – to women and men, the harassed and the harassers.
Furthermore, it is problematic that an employee whose role it is to advise the police bureau on community relations is incredibly tone deaf when it comes to appropriate behavior toward women.
We call on you to lead by example by issuing a formal apology to Commissioner Smith and making a public statement expressing zero tolerance for sexual harassment. In addition, we urge the City of Portland to show its commitment to eradicating sexual harassment by including gender discrimination in the charter of the Office of Equity and Human Rights and by providing more rigorous anti-discrimination training to all City of Portland employees. Finally, we recommend that corrective action be taken with Baruti Artharee immediately – because without that, the consequences of sexual harassment are clear: there are none.
National Organization for Women, Oregon Chapter
Former United States Congresswoman Darlene Hooley
Former Oregon State Senator Margaret Carter
Former Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz Walsh
Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury
Oregon State Representative Shemia Fagan
Oregon State Representative Jessica Vega-Peterson
Oregon State Representative Jennifer Williamson
Tualatin City Councilor Joelle Davis
By Kristin Teigen
June 30, 2013
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