Portland’s Political Correctness Revisited Too Soon

Right From the Start

Right From the Start

In July of this year, I wrote a column about “political correctness” stretched to the level of incompetence. In that column I discussed the actions of Jack D. Graham, Portland’s Chief Administrative Office (CAO) and Director of the Office and Finance and Management and Baruti Artharee, former chairman of the Black Justice Committee and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales’ handpicked Director of Public Safety for Portland.  Both Mr. Graham and Mr. Artharee are persons of color. Both Mr. Graham and Mr. Artharee committed acts serious enough to warrant their termination.  The essence of my comments was that “Portland’s uber liberal politicians’ testicles shrivel at the fear of being cast as racist for criticizing or disciplining a person of color.”

Well Mr. Graham is back in the news and lo and behold it is because Portland Mayor Charlie Hale has “fired” him.  Wait now – don’t be thinking that the Mayor has actually grown a pair.  You need to look carefully at the facts surrounding Mr. Graham’s termination.  So let’s go back to the original dust-up.

Mr. Graham attempted to divert $200,000 from the city’s utilities department to his financial office to offset budget reductions demanded by then Portland Mayor Sam Adams.  Mr. Graham was warned repeatedly by his employees that the attempted diversion was inappropriate and probably illegal.  But Mr. Graham persisted and was only stopped by a group of whistle blowers who, dismayed by the lack of action when they reported it to city officials, reported it to outside sources prompting a lawsuit by utility ratepayers and bringing the matter to inescapable public attention.  The Oregonian, laid out the case:

“Portland’s top administrator, Jack D. Graham, tried to divert nearly $200,00 of water and sewer ratepayer money to the city’s general fund last year over the objections of staff, prompting an outside investigation that substantiated allegations of ‘impropriety’ but resulted in no recorded discipline, according to information obtained by The Oregonian.

“Graham’s actions, intended to shield his office from cuts during city budgeting in 2012, emerged just months after a group of utility ratepayers sued the city over accusations of improperly spending water and sewer funds.

“Although city leaders knew about the allegations — brought to them by multiple whistleblowers — since at least July, Portland did not hire an outside investigator until November. And both mayors Sam Adams and Charlie Hales kept Graham in his role as chief administrative officer, even after the investigation confirmed the claims against him.

“The city has been fighting since May to keep the investigation secret and denied the newspaper’s public records request for related documents.”

This time, Mr. Graham was involved in a finger pointing dispute with Portland City Controller, Jane Kingston, about who was responsible for some accounting irregularities discovered by the city’s outside auditors.  Mr. Graham blamed Ms. Kingston for not having rectified the problem earlier while Ms. Kingston blamed Mr. Graham for having delegated away her authority to actually deal with the problem.  Who is right is unimportant.  In the end the disagreement was public and, apparently, an embarrassment to the mayor and members of the City Commission.

But here is the kicker.  Mr. Graham was terminated without cause thus triggering a penalty clause in his employment contract that requires the city of Portland to pay him almost $200,000.  The termination without cause also leaves Mr. Graham free to pursue a wrongful discharge suit against the City of Portland that, regardless of merit, will result in an additional cost to the city in the form of legal fees and/or settlement costs.  According to the Oregonian quoted Mr. Hales as stating:

“Jack was not surprised and neither was I that at some point, this controversy became too hot, and it was the right thing for him to do to move on in his career and let us start fresh.”

Does that sound like a firing?  This sounds more like the termination was Mr. Graham’s idea and that he and Mr. Hales conspired to insure that Mr. Graham had a “bonus” on his way out the door to pursue other opportunities.  Mr. Hales had the opportunity to discharge Mr. Graham for cause as late as last summer but chose instead to look the other way.  Now, this arrangement is going to cost the city’s taxpayers a bundle.  But what the hell, it isn’t their money and the sterling reputation of Mr. Hales and the other city commissioners as diversity advocates remains unsullied – and that’s what counts.

And lest you think that only Portland’s politicians succumb to this sort of foolishness, at the same time that Mr. Graham’s departure was being announced, the Portland Community College was announcing the finalists for their top diversity job.  One of the two finalists is Multnomah County Chief Diversity and Equity Officer Daryl Dixon.  However, Willamette Week, apparently the only media outlet that actually investigates the political shenanigans of Portland government elites, noted:

“Earlier this week, WW reported that Dixon continued to run a private consulting firm while working for the county. Dixon and former Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen say they verbally agreed on that arrangement when Dixon joined the county three years ago, with the stipulation that Dixon’s private business not interfere with his county work.

“But records WW obtained through a public records request show that Dixon was using county resources for that business and had failed to file disclosure form as county personnel rules require.”

(You might remember that Mr. Cogen was forced to resign from his position as chairman of the Multnomah County Commission as a result of an affair with a subordinate who received a promotion during the affair and for which Mr. Cogen was suspected of using county resources to conduct the affair.)

Willamette Week reported that Mr. Dixon has resigned his position with Multnomah County to “pursue other interests” – presumably another government position this time with Portland Community College despite the allegations of questionable conduct already pending.  Mr. Dixon is also a person of color.  The opportunity to move him into another well paying government position without terminating him for his actions left the sterling reputation of the Multnomah County Commissioners as diversity advocates to remain unsullied – and that’s what counts.

In the end, we have to thank the liberal political establishment of Portland/Multnomah County because without them we would have to make this stuff up.  We could create a television series and call it something like Portlandia.  Oh, you say that Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein have already done that.  Darn, there goes another million-dollar idea.