A high-ranking employee at Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) with ties to the far-right Vancouver, Washington group Patriot Prayer has a history of making city employees feel threatened and uncomfortable, according to city records obtained by the Mercury.
Gregory Isaacson is an Analyst II—a managerial title—at PP&R, and has worked there since 2016. Isaacson was arrested during a Patriot Prayer protest last year, and charged with failure to comply with a lawful order. Isaacson has also been documented on video engaging in Holocaust skepticism, prompting Rose City Antifa and other leftist groups to call for his dismissal from PP&R.
Documents from the city’s human resources department, obtained through a public records request, show that Isaacson’s position with PP&R also drew complaints from city employees who said they felt “unsafe” in his presence.
The documents largely center on one training session for city employees held on Aug 24, 2017. The session was meant to educate employees on microaggressions, or forms of discrimination that are not overt but can still cause distress for people of color and other minorities who encounter them on a daily basis.
Isaacson attended the 2017 training and, by all accounts, was a disruptive presence.
A letter sent to Isaacson in 2018 by the city's human resources department details the numerous complaints made by city employees who also attended the training.
During the training, the letter states, Isaacson had “demonstrated a lack of support for the City’s philosophy and expectations by saying things like ‘this is bullshit,’ or ‘this is nonsense.'"
“Though [Isaacson] presented himself as very ‘polite’ he was constantly making convoluted comments under his breath, shaking his head, and smirking at what the presenters were offering,” wrote one city employee who sat at the same table as Isaacson during the training. “[Isaacson] also smirked at us when we shared and he refused to participate in the small group sharing activity … stating that he has offended a lot of people in his life and he doesn’t care.”
The employee wrote that due to Isaacson’s behavior, they “missed important aspects of the training, and left the room feeling very unsafe.”
“I do not feel safe collaborating with [Isaacson] in the future,” they concluded.
Isaacson allegedly told his table that the term “politically correct” comes from 16th century Communist China, and grew hostile when others contradicted him. One of the training facilitators quickly changed the subject so as to avoid escalation.
“I walked away from the training last Thursday feeling like I was really glad I don’t have to work with him,” another employee who sat at Isaacson’s table wrote. “Basically, I now think of him as a person I’d like to avoid.”
A letter from the event's co-facilitator noted that the specific 2017 training was “the third time that I have observed Greg’s behavior in an training topic related to Equity” [sic].
“It is my opinion that Greg is very resistant to any concepts related to equity,” the co-facilitator added.
The 2018 letter also mentioned an incident in which he made a city employee of color feel unsafe at a PP&R facility:
“A Parks employee who is a person of color visited the Mt. Tabor Yard (MTY) and left feeling unwelcomed and fearful to return to MTY because of an interaction had with you,” the letter reads. “The person described the situation as you questioned them in an aggressive tone about the reason for visiting MTY.”
The letter advised Isaacson that while “this interaction alone did not provide sufficient evidence of a rule violation, please know that there have been other reports by employees of color who have felt unwelcome and subjected to scrutiny while visiting MTY that other employees who are white have not reported experiencing.”
It’s unclear what, if any, formal discipline Isaacson received as a result of these complaints. In the 2018 letter sent to Isaacson, the human resources employee said the purpose of the letter was to “serve as a closure to the complaints that raised the issues addressed above, to document the concerns raised, and provide you with my expectation moving forward.”
The letter continues:
“You are to treat everyone you work with at the City with respect, courtesy, and be aware of your approach to others that can come across as intimidating and/or unwelcoming. You also need to be keenly aware of your interactions with employees of color to ensure that you are not treating them with greater scrutiny than you do to white employees. My expectation is that you will interact with all employees in a welcoming manner.”
When reached for comment about Isaacson, PP&R sent the Mercury the following statement:
"Our bureau is fully committed to the values of equity and inclusion, and strives to enhance diversity and culturally-conscious efforts. Our Equity Statement and Racial Equity Plan, and our bureau priorities, reflect these goals. Our Equity & Inclusion team is focused on advancing equity and inclusion practices to improve Portland’s parks system. Our Diversity and Equity Committee advises our bureau Director and Equity & Inclusion Team on bureau policies and practices to remove barriers and promote diversity, inclusion and racial equity best practices.
We require a series of equity and inclusion trainings for all employees. Each employee is reviewed on equity outcomes through our performance management process. And, as an employer, we both respect and are bound by the Constitutional protections governing freedom of assembly and speech.
The City takes seriously any complaint that an employee is engaging in criminal activity, particularly when that activity involves hate. We investigate all concerns brought to our attention and take appropriate corrective action if City rules have been violated. We do not, however, comment on specific personnel issues."