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Commissioners point to political motives sparking accusations

by: PHOTO BY JAIME VALDEZ - Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith talks with Chair John Ludlow before a recent Commissioners' Business Meeting.Clackamas County Chairman John Ludlow probably did make sexist and racist comments in front of county staffers, but the remarks and his actions did not constitute legal discrimination against former county lobbyist Jared Anderson.

That’s according to an official investigation into Anderson’s April 22 complaint to Clackamas County Department of Employee Services against Ludlow and Commissioner Tootie Smith.

Smith was also exonerated by the report, which found that her public insistence that the county hire an additional “experienced” lobbyist was not due to her perception of Anderson’s age, political party affiliation or sexual orientation.

“While it is evident that knowledge of Commissioner Smith’s remarks was highly distressing to Mr. Anderson, I do not find that they created an objectively hostile work environment,” writes Dana Sullivan, a Portland employment attorney hired to conduct the month-long process.

Anderson left the county on June 2, agreeing to a severance package of $43,775 and not to pursue any further action against the county.

The Board of County Commissioners voted to release the report last Wednesday in an effort to show the county is committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

“For more than a decade Clackamas County has worked diligently to foster and develop a workplace that reflects diversity, equity and inclusion as core values of our public service mission,” said Ludlow in a statement paired with the release. “We recognize that our journey toward reaching these objectives comprises many steps — and sometimes missteps. We are constantly learning and growing together in common pursuit of this important objective.”

Anderson’s original six-page complaint alleges Ludlow made racist, sexist and derogatory comments in front of Public and Governmental Affairs staff, such as:

  • During a dinner, Ludlow said former Commissioner Ann Lininger earned her seat in the Oregon House because “she does a good job of sticking out her perky titties in people’s faces.”
  • To a police officer about the perpetrators of a recent shooting: “I bet they were Mexicans.”
  • On the day of the Boston marathon bombing, “I’m sure it was a damn A-rab.”
  • Ludlow has denied these alleged statements multiple times.

    Sullivan’s investigation found that even if the precise verbiage is not correct, statements of this nature likely occurred, but do not constitute discrimination against Anderson.

    Sullivan concluded that there is a “disconnect” between Clackamas County staff and “at least one commissioner” about what is appropriate workplace conversation.

    Anderson also recounted an incident on Jan. 29 in which he showed Smith a picture of a 4-year-old he recently adopted with his same-sex partner. Anderson believes Smith significantly changed her attitude towards him and his work performance after this encounter.

    Sullivan’s report concluded that, rather, Smith knew Anderson’s sexual orientation several weeks before that encounter and was instead motivated by incorrect assumptions of Anderson’s inexperience and disappointment of the county’s position in the state’s land-use grand-bargain bill.

    Anderson rejects that assertion, saying that Smith’s attitude changed before the result of the bill was known. HB 4078 was, he said, “an opportunity and platform to tarnish my professional credibility and hire an outside contract lobbyist to sideline me from my work, in large part due to her discomfort with, and distaste for, my sexual orientation and perceived political party affiliation.”

    LGBTQ group would ‘never see the light of day’

    In the months leading up to his departure from the county, Anderson also felt blocked from creating a Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) affinity group, as allowed in the board’s 2012 resolution valuing diversity.

    “This will never see the light of day,” Ludlow reportedly said.

    However, Sullivan found that Anderson was only told that he would need to create such a group on his own time and not during paid work hours.

    “It is not clear to me what obstacles, if any, may be preventing Mr. Anderson from forming an affinity group for LGBT employees,” Sullivan wrote.

    In Anderson’s detailed interview, however, he contrasted his experience at the county with his last job at TriMet, which he felt was much more open and inclusive.

    “The fact that I am not aware of any other LGBTQ employees — when we have such a large workforce — speaks volumes about the level of comfort these employees have at the county.”

    Smith says her opinions on gay rights have been mischaracterized in the media but did not elaborate on what they are. Smith says she lobbied with the Oregon Family Council to pass a unanimous bill allowing churches to “hire whom they want to hire” and this is why she is “under assault.”

    During the Thursday meeting, the commissioners also heard from Molalla resident Susan Hansen, who felt the commission was taking the county back to the “Dark Ages.”

    “It’s no wonder our county is floundering,” Hansen said. “The vile, racist and sexist attitudes displayed by Ludlow and Smith have no place in the modern world.”

    Hansen added in support of Anderson: “It takes an unbearable climate of disrespect to have the courage to complain.”

    “Talk is cheap,” responded Smith as Hansen left the room. Commissioners Martha Schrader and Paul Savas also left the hearing room before Smith’s scheduled statement at the end of the business meeting.

    “Anyone can make a complaint against anyone about anything,” Smith said, detailing her cooperative efforts with investigators and reiterating that the report did not find anything illegal about her conduct.

    “Whether this (Anderson’s complaint) was politically motivated, we will never know, though I have my suspicions,” Smith said.

    Ludlow, Smith and Anderson have all declined further comment on this issue.

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