If you've missed the drama that's unfolded around Baruti Artharee—the policy director for Mayor Charlie Hales who's accused of making inappropriate remarks to a county commissioner last week—you haven't been paying attention.
Willamette Week on Sunday night broke the story that Artharee shocked Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith with an offhand remark during an event at the Quartet Restaurant on Thursday.
According to the newspaper, Artharee acknowledged remarking to a crowd: "Here's our beautiful commissioner, Loretta Smith—mmm, mmm, mmm—she looks good tonight." Apparently a certain measure of hip movement accompanied the words, which offended some people—Smith included.
The news took off yesterday, drawing limited acknowledgement from the mayor's office but prompting Oregonian columnist Steve Duin to draw a puzzling comparison between Artharee's comment and the well-publicized anti-Semitic and racist screeds of Mel Gibson and comedian Michael Richards.
Anyway, we were content to stay out of the fray, but the mayor's office has just issued its first press release on the incident, indicating an official investigation has begun.
“As we said from the start, we are treating this issue seriously,” Hales is quoted as saying in the release. “We are treating it as a complaint regarding actions in violation of the city’s anti-harassment policy. We now are going through the appropriate steps, as laid out in city policy.”
Hales Spokesman Dana Haynes this afternoon declined to say whether any sort of censure is possible for Arthuree, saying the mayor's office and Smith's staff are keeping in touch on the incident.
In thinking about this story, I realized Artharee's comments took place Thursday night, and that he was conspicuously absent the following morning from a meeting of the city's Gang Violence Task Force. That meeting was attended by Hales and a representative of Smith's staff, and led by Portland Office of Youth Violence Prevention Director Antoinette Edwards, who was apparently standing near Smith at the time of the remarks.
Mind you, I have no idea whether Artharee's absence was connected to the incident.
UPDATE, 5:30 pm: In a twisty bit of irony, Portland's Office of Equity and Human Rights just issued a statement in support of the investigation into Artharee's conduct.
It makes no mention of the fact the incident took place at an event to introduce Dante James, director of the office, to members of various minority communities.
“Our role is to advise city staff and commissioners on equity issues,” James said in the release. “And we will continue to recognize and help the city address historic inequities that reinforce rather than challenge non-inclusive behavior toward all.”
Regardless of his intent—Artharee has indicated it was a bit of levity that misfired—an event for the director of the Office of Equity and Human Rights has to be one of the poorer places he could have made the gaffe.
By the way, here's the policy Artharee's being investigated under.