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Multnomah County Communications

After calling County Commissioner Loretta Smith a "bitch" amid a heated exchange on December 21, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury isn't just apologizing to Smith. On Friday, she apologized to all of the county's employees, too.

"At last week’s board meeting, I lost my cool and made a regrettable comment to Commissioner Smith," Kafoury wrote in an email to county staff sent on Friday, December 29. "I have apologized to Commissioner Smith personally and to my board colleagues, but I also want to apologize to the employees of Multnomah County for my remark. Our work is challenging enough without this kind of discord at the top."

The apology suggests Kafoury is taking seriously her lapse in decorum, which occurred after Smith questioned Kafoury's decision to make county Chief Operating Officer Marissa Madrigal her alternate on the county board. Smith, who's clashed with Kafoury repeatedly, said linking one of the county's most-senior officials explicitly with Kafoury's office could send a message that Madrigal was not impartial and might treat some commissioner's offices differently.

Smith further suggested Kafoury's office suffered from institutional racism, repeating a claim made recently after a former senior health official, Tricia Tillman, suggested she was let go partly because she is Black. Tillman alleged widespread disparate treatment of minority employees at the county.

"What happens when the institutional racism is coming from the chair’s office?" Smith said at one point during the December 21 hearing. "Aligning the top two people in this organization... the COO and CEO, there is lots of room for institutional and infrastructural racism."

Kafoury attempted to press on, forcing a vote to make Madrigal her alternate. Smith interrupted, saying she had questions for the county's legal counsel. Eventually, Kafoury abruptly gaveled the meeting to a close, lobbing the oath at Smith before walking out of the room.

Here's Kafoury's full message to employees.

Dear Multnomah County employees,

At last week’s board meeting, I lost my cool and made a regrettable comment to Commissioner Smith. In the time since, I've had the chance to reflect. I know that as we work towards being an organization where safety, trust and belonging is not just a vision, but a reality, I have to hold myself to a higher standard, and model the type of behaviors and practices that reflect these values from the board to our front line staff.

I have apologized to Commissioner Smith personally and to my board colleagues, but I also want to apologize to the employees of Multnomah County for my remark. Our work is challenging enough without this kind of discord at the top. Please reach out to me if you have questions, concerns or if you just want to talk.