PORTLAND – A top aide for Mayor Charlie Hales will take an unpaid leave of absence after he made inappropriate comments about a county commissioner.
According to a statement released by Hales Monday, Baruti Artharee, the mayor’s policy safety director, will step aside for a week.
As part of his punishment, Artharee will also required to attend individualized training on the city’s policy on harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
His job as Hales' liaison to the Portland Police Bureau includes the major task of bringing the city in compliance with violations of civil rights outlined in a U.S. Justice Department investigation about the police force.
The work includes building and continuing a working relationship with African-American ministers and the Portland Police Union.
“I opted for a discipline that reflects the importance of the issue to me and to the city,” Hales said. “Though strict, this suspension is the appropriate corrective action.”
Artharee made inappropriate comments to Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith during a public event at Quartet Restaurant in June attended by African-American community leaders. From the dais, he singled her out for her appearance while moving his hips.
Both the mayor and Artharee have since personally apologized to Smith.
"I feel as strongly today as I did when this incident happened three weeks ago," Smith said in a statement Monday. "No woman should ever be subjected to this kind of behavior."
In addition to being harassed, Smith also made mention of a racial remark used by Artharee at the same event in which he made comments about her.
"No one - especially if you're representing an elected official like Mr. Artharee - should throw around the historically painful phrase 'field Negro' the way it happened at this event," said Smith.
Fellow county commissioner Deborah Kafoury had strong words about the decision by Hales to retain Artharee.
"If a member of my staff were to publicly make such comments to an elected official, then that person would not be working for me anymore," Kafoury said.
City commissioner Nick Fish said a one-week suspension failed to send a strong enough message about workplace harassment.
Hales said that Artharee offered to resign from his staff, but the mayor declined his offer.
“I turned down his offer because I believed, and I continue to believe, that Baruti is the right person for the task at hand.”