City authority to investigate Adams' allegations unclear
It is unclear whether the City of Portland can investigate allegations of sexual harassment against former Mayor Sam Adams.
The allegations were made by former Adams' employee Cevero Gonzalez in a six-page statement sent to the City Council and other city employees late Thursday. Among other things, Gonzalez alleged that Adams talked about his sex life and demanded details of Gonzalez's sexual preference when the two worked together in the Mayor's Office more than five years ago. Both men are gay.
Adams has denied the allegations and says he welcomes an investigation into them. He is now the director of the World Resources Institute.
But city policies prohibiting sexual harassment appear to apply to current Portland officials and employees, or outsiders doing business with the city. They provide a process for investigation such complaints, but not specifically for investigating allegations against a former official or employee.
"This is a very important matter and we need to be sure we understand how the policies apply before we comment on it," Commissioner Nick Fish told the Portland Tribune on Sunday.
Fish says he pushed to update the city's former anti-harassment policies when he was in charge of Portland Parks & Recreation six or seven years ago. At the time, a complaint of inappropriate behavior filed by a female employee was dismissed by a hearings officer because the policies were not clear enough.
"Prohibiting discrimination is very important to me and I wanted to make sure nothing like that happened again," said Fish, who was out of the office when news of Gonzalez's allegations broke on Friday. Fish says he plans to meet with the city attorney on Monday to better understand whether a complaint has been filed under the current policies and, if so, what process the city should follow to investigate it.
In his letter, Gonzalez said he complained about Adams' behavior to other people in the office, but was told if he continued complaining, he could lose his job. Gonzalez did not say whether he used any of the other options available to him at the time, such as complaining to the Human Resources Department.
Gonzalez did file a civil rights complaint while working for Adams' successor, however. After Charlie Hales because mayor and hired former Oregon legislator and state administrator Gail Shibley as his chief of staff, Gonzalez filed a complaint with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries in 2014. It alleged that Shibley pressured Gonzalez into saying he is HIV-positive and then verbally harassed him because of his illness. She denied the accusations.
Gonzalez subsequently withdrew the complaint and sued Shibley in U.S. District Court over the matter. Court records show the suit was settled in April 2016.
You can read the city's administrative rules against harassment at tinyurl.com/y9vaqvxs.
KOIN News 6 is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. You can read its story and Gonzalez's letter at tinyurl.com/ya4w346c.