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Former county employee seeks to clear his name

Updated with comment from Rizzi, Novick.

Multnomah County will hold an unusual name-clearing hearing for an emergency manager who resigned two years ago while facing complaints from his subordinates.

Joe Rizzi was director of the county's Office of Emergency Management from 2012 until July 2014, when he resigned. Several employees had complained about him, the most vocal being Rachel Novick, who is now the wife of City Commissioner Steve Novick.

Rachel Novick accused him of a poor and unfair management style as well as spending inordinate periods of time with his girlfriend during work hours. He also repeatedly recorded employees without their knowledge or permission, a violation of Oregon law, she wrote.

At the time, Rizzi denied the claims and complained to the Portland Mercury that he was being smeared unfairly.

On July 17, 2014, Rizzi agreed to resign, effective immediately, in a settlement. Under the agreement, the county agreed to not challenge his unemployment benefits.

More than two years later, Rizzi is invoking a little-known right of public employment law stemming from a 1972 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which essentially allows a terminated employee to speak publicly at a hearing to respond to false or stigmatizing claims.

Public agencies often offer the hearings to avoid litigation.

Rizzi says he agreed to resign after he was found to have recorded meetings without employees' consent. But he says he was unaware of the other allegations that came out in the Portland Mercury after he left — some of which he contends were deemed "unfounded" — and he wants the chance to publicly respond. He says he has applied for dozens of jobs without success. He calls the allegations "fabrications" that came after he gave a negative performance review to Novick.

Novick, for her part, declined to comment other to say "I do stand by what I put in the complaint."

The hearing is scheduled for 1p.m. Friday at the Multnomah building, 501 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.

There's no formal protocol for such hearings. But in an email to Rizzi, County Attorney Jenny Madkour wrote that "you will be permitted to present testimony and evidence, and/or provide a written response ... This is an opportunity for you to present testimony and publicly tell your side of the story. The hearing is not an opportunity for dialogue with, or cross examination of, County representatives. Nor is the provision of a hearing an admission of any legal entitlement, liability, or fault."