Jefferson Smith during his 2012 campaign for Portland mayor.
Jefferson Smith during his 2011 campaign for Portland mayor. Mercury staff

Portland nonprofit radio station XRAY.FM has officially ended its relationship with Jefferson Smith, the station's co-founder and former executive director.

"We want to share the following news," reads an email sent from XRAY's board of directors Friday morning to the station's DJs. "... Jefferson Smith and XRAY.FM will go their separate ways. Jefferson will no longer be associated with XRAY.FM nor host a radio program." The statement was later posted to XRAY's blog.

The news, which was decided by the nonprofit's board earlier in the week, comes nearly a year after XRAY staff and volunteers first raised concerns about Smith's leadership, financial management, and general professionalism as the nonprofit's figurehead. In a November 2020 story published in Willamette Week, six former and current station employees said Smith bullied and intimidated staff, especially women, and mishandled the nonprofit's finances.

Smith stepped down as XRAY's executive director on January 1, but remained the host of the station's "XRAY in the Morning" show and was given the new title of "senior adviser." Friday's announcement officially severs Smith's remaining ties with the nonprofit.

According to the Friday email, the XRAY board is also working with an outside agency to audit "past HR practices and correct errors," presumably made by Smith.

"The investigation is ongoing and we will do our best to make it right," the email reads.

In November, XRAY's former finance manager Lillian Karabaic told WW that Smith neglected to pay the station's overworked hourly staff minimum wage, and often backpedalled on his initial salary agreements to employees, which included Karabaic. She and other past employees have remained frustrated with the lack of accountability regarding Smith's harmful impact on the small nonprofit following WW's reporting.

In a statement sent to the Mercury Friday morning, Karabaic expressed her cautious appreciation of the board's latest decision.

“I would still like to see acknowledgment of harm done to past staff and volunteers by the board, who have had HR complaints filed about Jefferson Smith since the station’s inception and took 7 years to remove him," said Karabaic. "But this is a big step forward towards recognizing the harm he has done."

Annie Ostrowski, another former XRAY employee, also called the news a positive step, but said it’s not enough to completely repair the damage done under Smith’s leadership. Ostrowski left her job as XRAY’s events and underwriting manager in January, and ended her DJ work at the station a month later. She is one of many longtime DJs who have left XRAY in recent weeks because of Smith.

Support The Portland Mercury

“This is not just about Jefferson’s behavior, but about the board’s decision to enable him for so long," Ostrowski told the Mercury Friday. "The board needs to acknowledge the harm caused by their inactions. They haven't, and it's left a lot of people in pain. I think people really want to feel heard… and that requires more than just a nice PR statement. It’s just unfortunate that it took so long, and so many DJs and staff members quitting for the board to take action.”

Smith, a charismatic former state legislator and founder of the Bus Project (now called Next Up), co-founded XRAY in 2014, not long after he lost the Portland mayor's race to Charlie Hales. Smith's path to the mayor's office was derailed after news broke that he had punched a woman in 1993—and then, after the story broke—showed up at that woman's house unannounced.

Emily Gilliland, former CEO of youth activity nonprofit Camp Fire Columbia, has served as XRAY's interim director since December. The radio station is expected to begin its search for a permanent director soon.