YOU HAD to wonder, given the ubiquity of harassment and assault, when the #MeToo movement would touch Portland City Hall.
It finally hit last Thursday, in a wide-ranging six-page complaint sent by Cevero Gonzalez, a former staffer to ex-mayor Sam Adams.
Gonzalez, who is gay, alleged sexual harassment. He said Adams persistently quizzed him about his love life and whether he liked men circumcised. He further claimed the former mayor tried to bring him to downtown strip club Silverado, and insisted he scout gay bars and bathhouses at Adams’ travel destinations.
Other claims were just as concerning. Gonzalez wrote he felt pressured by Adams’ chief of staff, Tom Miller, to keep his concerns about the behavior quiet, lest he be forced out of his city job.
“I accepted Sam’s behavior and the rationales provided by my supervisors because when I complained I was told to be quiet,” Gonzalez wrote in the complaint, first reported by Willamette Week. “When I persisted I was told I could lose my job.”
Both Adams and Miller have denied the accusations. Gonzalez has asked that the city investigate the claims, and try to corroborate the behaviors he described with other city employees.
It’s explosive, worrisome stuff. And it’s possible it’ll fizzle out here.
In response to Gonzalez’s complaint, city attorneys and HR officials are trying to answer a question: Can the city do anything?
“Our normal course of action would be to have the Bureau of Human Resources conduct an investigation to determine if any violations of law or policy have occurred that merit discipline or that require other action to protect a City employee from harassment or discrimination,” says City Attorney Tracy Reeve. “In this instance, however, the allegations have been made against a person who is no longer affiliated with the City by a person who is no longer employed by the City.”
Seen from that vantage point, it’s a conundrum. Adams hasn’t been mayor for five years. If he’d been another type of official—say a bureau director—it’s possible there’d be remnants of the bureaucracy he oversaw in place to investigate. But mayor’s offices don’t work like that. Even the vestiges of Adams’ administration who stayed on to work for Charlie Hales (Gonzalez among them) are nowhere to be found on Mayor Ted Wheeler’s staff, though some Adams staffers do still work elsewhere in the city. Adams, who’s said he’d welcome an investigation, is probably untouchable from a city standpoint.
But who cares? If even a portion of the allegations are true, Portland’s former executive acted with shocking recklessness and utter disregard for one of his employees. What’s more, his staff might have enabled and abetted that activity.
The city owes it to the public to try to figure out what truth exists in Gonzalez’s statement. And if officials do turn up evidence supporting his claims, they need to figure out what lapses—in training, in oversight, in the complaint process, in whatever—exist that could have allowed this to occur.
The emergence of #MeToo has been ugly and painful and, unfortunately, shocking to many people (myself included). It’s too important a moment for inaction.