In her eight years as a Multnomah Canton commissioner, Loretta Smith has been a adamant apostle for communities of blush and low-income bodies in her district.
She has pushed the canton to armamentarium hundreds of paid summer internships for disadvantaged youth, partnered with the burghal of Portland’s bread-and-er development bureau to barrage an beforehand armamentarium for businesses started by bodies of color and helped stop cuts to a affairs that provides in-home affliction for poorer seniors.
“I put my money area my aperture is,” Smith said. “I fight, I lead, and I’m a best for adolescent people, earlier bodies and low-income folks.”
Her ample successes in her commune and her political full-blooded — more than 20 years alive for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden — should accept fabricated her a frontrunner in the chase for an accessible bench on the Portland City Council.
But questions about Smith’s use of accessible assets for claimed and attack costs and her accessible fights with agents and colleagues accept frequently overshadowed her accomplishments — and bulk her political abutment in her attack adjoin Jo Ann Hardesty, a adept civilian rights activist with her own political baggage.
Smith, 54, was built-in in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her grandparents came to Portland to assignment in the Kaiser Shipyards during World War II, and she becoming a bulk in communications at Oregon State University.
She was the aboriginal affiliate of her actual ancestors to alum from college, and she aloft her son, Jordan, as a distinct parent — adventures she says shaped her backroom and her focus on historically underserved populations.
Smith’s political abilities and DNA formed in what her accompany and above colleagues accredit to as “Wyden World.”
She started alive for Ron Wyden, again a new affiliate of the U.S. House of Representative, as a receptionist. Wyden was adopted to the U.S. Senate in 1996, and Smith confused up too, aboriginal accomplishing basic assignment and again confined as Wyden’s Multnomah Canton field representative.
In that role, she managed the senator’s appropriations requests for Multnomah County, allowance absolute allotment to the Sellwood Bridge backup and academy health projects.
Those requests — known amid critics as pork spending or alone earmarks — were acclimated by senators for decades to alter federal bureau spending to projects in their states.
“We alone had to go out and allocution to every distinct actuality who declared or beatific us a letter about accepting an appropriation,” Smith said. “It absolutely a me on how money is moved, how federal money is confused bottomward to the state, accompaniment bottomward to the county.”
While Smith has clashed with agents at Multnomah Canton and the added adopted canton lath members, colleagues from those Wyden years bethink her as accessible to work with.
Al Panek, a longtime abutment representative, formed as Wyden’s activity communication starting in 1997. He formed with Smith for 12 years and remembers affair her on his aboriginal day in the office. She accomplished him to use a computer and put him at ease.
“She was actual actual accessible to me, appropriate from the aboriginal day,” Panek said. “She wears her animosity appropriate out front. She’s aloof a actual sweet, able person, actual compassionate of added people’s problems.”
Smith’s determinative years in government were alive for a bang-up whose every day was appointed bottomward to the minute and who relied on agents to accumulate him a and fed and area he bare to be.
“When you accept somebody who’s alive that hard, you do a lot of actuality for them,” said accompaniment Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, addition above Wyden aide. “With Ron, he’s got calls to make, he’s got actuality to read. He’s appointed for 14 hours a day. Bodies drive him everywhere. You adeptness grab him lunch.”
In 2010, Smith won an accessible bench on the Multnomah Canton commission, apery North and Northeast Portland. She was aloof the added African-American woman adopted to the county board.
Her two agreement accept been apparent by cogent highs, in accurate her assignment on summer jobs for acceptance of color.
SummerWorks PDX, a paid internship and job apprenticeship affairs targeting disadvantaged and assorted youth, launched as a one-year activity with federal bang allotment in 2009.
Smith represented the canton on the Portland Metro Workforce Development Board, and she saw the affairs as a analytical success at a time aback the unemployment bulk was decidedly aerial for adolescence of color.
Andrew McGough, the controlling administrator of the nonprofit that managed the internship program, says it was Smith who pushed the burghal and canton to accumulate SummerWorks afloat afterwards the antecedent federal allotment ran out.
“The canton accurate 25 slots. We cobbled calm a array of resources. That year we served maybe 200 kids,” he said.
Smith formed anniversary year to abound the county’s beforehand in SummerWorks and recruit new businesses to participate.
Today, Multnomah Canton invests $2.1 actor annually in the program. This year, it will serve about 1,200 young people.
McGough said Smith, at her core, believes her job is to accomplish abiding that government assets abutment underserved communities.
“She has been abundantly constant in advancing an calendar and priorities that reflect that belief,” he said.
But Smith’s administration at the canton has additionally been apparent by altercation and conflict, including a canton assay that assured she had acceptable afraid her agents and had a addiction of disallowed purchases on her canton debit agenda and frequently lost receipts.
Smith does not see herself as a polarizing figure. She dismisses the investigation, and she attributes her challenges to negative press.
“I would beforehand aback on your characterization,” she said. “I don’t anticipate I’ve been controversial.”
In 2014, Smith was re-elected to a added term, calmly acquisition three challengers and alienated a runoff.
While Smith delivered for her constituents, her history of spending and agents administration aloft questions aural county offices.
In 2015, an assay by Willamette Week begin that Smith spent far added of her appointment annual on biking and contributions to nonprofits than her fellow commissioners.
That address appropriate that while best of that spending didn’t breach canton behavior at the time, Smith had been application accessible assets to accession her political contour during her re-election campaign.
Then, in 2016, reporters abstruse that her canton accomplishment were actuality busy over added than $36,000 she owed the accompaniment in taxes and late fees.
Smith said at the time that she did not in actuality owe aback taxes, and she attributed the botheration to a appellation aggregation afield anecdotic her home as an beforehand acreage aback she sold it.
Tax annal she aggregate with OPB affirm that account: In June 2017, the accompaniment alone its affirmation and accustomed that a aberration had been made.
“IRS has antipodal their antecedent analysis in full. Therefore the Oregon Administration of Revenue has additionally antipodal our antecedent announcement in full,” Kim Janis, a accompaniment tax official, wrote Smith in a letter she made public.
In January 2017, one of Smith’s aides fabricated a alternation of atomic allegations about the alive ambiance in her appointment in a letter addressed to Smith that was afterwards forwarded to the canton apostle and leaked to the press.
“Because of your history of calumniating added above agents members, I feel it is capital for my own aegis to outline in autograph the analysis I accept been answerable to and added items of affair that I accept observed,” MeeSeon Kwon, a action analyst, wrote to Smith and her arch of staff.
Kwon declared that she had empiric the abeyant abusage of canton assets for political purposes, blowing and abusage of agents and that she had been pressured to adulterate her timecard.
“You accept yelled, including profanities, and acclimated actual aweless tones of articulation aback communicating with me and added canton employees,” she wrote. “You fabricated calumniating comments about the weight of addition agents affiliate … you afield afraid me apropos my medical issues.”
A ages later, a above staffer, Saba Saleem, wrote Smith her own letter of complaint. Saleem declared that Smith fabricated a array of inappropriate comments to her, allurement if she was pregnant, analytic her accommodation to abstraction Arabic and cornering her in a canton bath to allege her of aperture advice to the county’s communications department.
According to Saleem’s letter, Smith lashed out at her agents in accurate afterwards Willamette Week began investigating her office’s spending history.
“The assay fabricated it absurd to arise into assignment afterwards assured to be yelled at, accursed at, actuality told you were incompetent, and actuality dehumanized,” she wrote.
Saleem additionally declared that Smith had acclimated her canton purchasing agenda for claimed items and to buy allowance cards for her employees.
Smith responded by allurement the canton animal assets administration to investigate the allegations.
The Secretary of Accompaniment begin that Smith had abandoned acclamation law on three occasions aback her appointment agents were asked whether they capital to beforehand at attack contest during canton staff meetings.
Elections administrator Stephen Trout assured that some of her canton agents may accept acquainted pressured to beforehand for the political events. Smith was fined $250 for the violation.
The canton animal assets assay begin that Smith had fabricated claimed purchases on her canton debit card, admitting she has reimbursed the county. It additionally begin that the claims of blowing were acceptable true, admitting difficult to prove.
But the assay apparent a abysmal breach amid Smith and her colleagues aural county government.
Saying she could not assurance the canton apostle to adequately represent her, Smith requested and accustomed canton funds to pay for a clandestine apostle for the continuance of the investigation.
She agreed to be interviewed as allotment of the HR assay — for an hour only, with her apostle present. Afterwards her interview, Smith’s apostle attempted to get the investigator to accommodate the names of all the added bodies he’d spoken with.
And admitting Smith herself had initially asked the canton to investigate her staffers’ claims, she eventually filed a abomination claim, advancing to sue the canton in an accomplishment to stop the investigation.
In the abomination affirmation notice, Smith fabricated her own atomic allegations: She accused Canton Chair Deborah Kafoury of acclimation the assay to befoul Smith’s character, apparently in an accomplishment to attenuate a political rival.
“The county’s accomplishments are causing Abettor Smith to ache astringent affecting distress, anxiety, humiliation, abhorrence and anger,” the abomination affirmation states. “She finds it difficult to beddy-bye at night annoying about the accident Chair Kafoury’s accomplishments are accomplishing to her adeptness to finer backpack out her duties.”
Smith additionally declared that the canton had a arrangement of alleviative abnormally African-Americans accused of misconduct.
The canton assured its assay in animosity of Smith’s abomination affirmation notice. Smith said she’s confused focus and is aggravating to absolve Kafoury. She said she no best intends to sue the county.
But she continues to accept the county’s animal assets administration lacked ascendancy to investigate her, accustomed her cachet as an adopted official rather than a non-elected county employee.
“The alone way that you can conduct an adopted official is through a recall,” she said.
The county’s absolute investigator, application apostle Clarence Belnavis, interviewed Smith and 10 assemblage who formed in canton government. He austere Smith of some of the allegations of delinquency fabricated by Saleem and Kwon and begin that others were likely true.
Belnavis acclaimed that abounding of the allegations of blowing took abode in one-on-one conversations amid Smith and alone staffers and, as a result, were difficult to corroborate. Three of the assemblage Belnavis interviewed said they did not apprehend profanity or attestant calumniating conduct in the office. Three added assemblage about corroborated Kwon and Saleem’s descriptions of amateurish and afflictive conduct by Smith.
Belnavis begin the blowing allegations credible, if difficult to prove.
“The allegations arise constant and announce that Abettor Smith may accept been harsher in her analysis of changeable staffers, application aspersing statements and profanity in these interactions,” he wrote.
Belnavis additionally acclaimed that the county’s animal assets administrator said Smith had “the accomplished agents about-face of any abettor and a acceptability for babble at her staff.”
At atomic six bodies accept served as Smith’s arch of agents in her eight years in office. OPB accomplished out to bristles of them. Hank Stern, now an abettor to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, declared Smith as a admiring boss. Elizabeth Mazzara Myers stepped bottomward from her position as arch to administer Smith’s burghal council campaign.
Her added above chiefs didn’t acknowledge to calls or messages.
Smith denied that about-face has been a botheration in her canton office, and she said abounding bodies accept been accomplished in her appointment and larboard for added good jobs.
“I accept had added agents of blush than any added abettor and accept brought them into bounded government,” she said. “My staffers, they accept catapulted themselves to added positions, with added adopted officials, which I anticipate is great.”
Kwon and Saleem beneath requests for animadversion on this story.
Kwon accomplished a adjustment with the canton over her allegations. She accustomed six months of paid authoritative leave, $23,820 for apostle fees and a letter of recommendation. Kwon formed briefly for accompaniment Sen. Rob Wagner and now works for Portland Abettor Amanda Fritz.
Three bodies who were not anon complex in the assay and formed carefully with Smith at Multnomah Canton batten with OPB but asked not to be identified.
Two declared claimed adventures actuality yelled at by Smith. The third declared periodically audition Smith babble at added bodies in her office.
Smith denied anytime blowing her agents or authoritative culturally aloof comments. She said it wasn’t abnormal to apprehend bodies adopting their choir in offices at the county.
“Raising our choir is not bullying,” she said. “Giving bodies administration that requires them to accept a aerial standard, and allurement bodies to do their job, that’s not bullying. Am I a boxy person? Yes.”
Her supporters beforehand that her analysis of her agents was casting in a harsher ablaze because she is an African-American woman.
“In the aforementioned way that a man will be declared as adventurous and advancing and a woman will be declared as ambitious and bitchy, you can bifold that with a atramentous woman,” said Rep. Smith Warner. “People are abashed by her.”
Historically, some of Portland’s best acknowledged leaders accept been accepted as boxy bosses. For example, Mayor Vera Katz was admired but additionally had a acceptability for captivation her advisers to awfully aerial standards — and absolution them apperceive aback she anticipation they’d fallen short.
The canton assay additionally looked into Saleem’s allegations that Smith acclimated her canton purchasing agenda for personal expenses.
The purchasing cards are, in effect, acclaim cards canton agents can use for baby business expenses. They’re an another to petty cash.
While the canton accounts department’s annal were incomplete, Belnavis begin that on at atomic 14 occasions, Smith acclimated her canton cards for disallowed claimed expenses. The accuse ranged from $478.75 spent at Safeway to a $7.25 allegation at Starbucks.
The bulk of ambiguous spending was analogously tiny —about $2,000 in absolute over a aeon of bristles years, beneath than a atom of one percent of Smith’s anniversary appointment annual of added than $600,000.
In anniversary case, her appointment afterwards reimbursed the county, admitting not consistently aural the county’s borderline of a month.
Belnavis was decidedly anxious by one aspect of the transactions: on four occasions, Smith didn’t pay the canton back. Instead, her arch of staff, Jimmy Brown, wrote checks from his claimed annual to balance the canton for Smith’s spending.
In one instance, Brown repaid the canton for a $47.55 allegation at a Washington D.C.. auberge bar afterwards a agreement analysis Smith had accounting from her claimed annual bounced.
Smith says that analysis bounced because she afield wrote it from an annual she had bankrupt due to theft. She says she consistently paid Brown aback aback he covered her reimbursements.
In an email, Brown told OPB he reimbursed Smith’s costs because the abettor was out of town.
“I capital to accomplish abiding that Accounting agents were not put in a position of cat-and-mouse until Abettor had alternate from biking to aing out the entries,” he said.
Smith characterizes all of the claimed accuse on her canton cards as normal. She says none of the costs were “disallowed,” the appellation acclimated byBelnavis in his report.
“I’ve never had any disallowed expenses. I’ve had adaptation from trips,” she said.
In two instances, added annal provided by the canton abutment Smith’s account that the accuse she had to balance were a aftereffect of the county’s ambagious biking reimbursement policies.
In 2013, Smith acclimated her canton purchasing agenda to abjure banknote from an ATM for biking costs for trips to Washington D.C. and Texas.
She afterwards had to balance the county, because the accounts administration paid her a alike banknote beforehand for those same trips.
Smith said she didn’t apperceive at the time that the accounts administration had afflicted the action for demography banknote advances for travel.
The canton accounts administration accepted that acquirement cards were acclimated to accommodate banknote advances for travel, that this convenance afflicted in 2013, and that Smith may not accept been a on the change.
Smith’s explanations for some of the added ambiguous accuse are less convincing.
She says she does not bethink why she answerable $478.75 at Safeway in 2013 to her canton acclaim card, or why the canton appropriate her to balance taxpayers for the payment.
In an antecedent annual this abatement with OPB, she abhorrent an intern for one charge: in 2014, addition in Smith’s appointment acclimated a acquirement agenda to pay a columnist for a photo shoot accompanying to Smith’s re-election campaign.
“An intern acclimated our acclaim agenda to pay him,” Smith said. ‘If I had been in the office, I would accept said, ‘No, no, no, don’t pay him.’”
County action allows alone abiding Multnomah Canton advisers to use canton credit cards.
Informed of that action by OPB in a added interview, Smith afflicted her account of who had paid the photographer.
“He was absolutely a limited-duration employee, so he was on full-time staff. He was new. He had alone been on agents for a few weeks,” she said. “His time aeon was like an intern, but he was put on regular payroll.”
Smith said she does not accept she should be advised alone answerable for her office’s spending.
“The arch of agents and the advanced board person, those are the bodies who absolutely accommodate all the bills. I don’t do that. That’s their job, to do that,” she said. “I don’t sit bottomward and pay the bills.”
The assay did not avert Smith’s bulk supporters. Prominent leaders in the African-American association about denounced it as “a political lynching.”
Smith has been accustomed by all four of the state’s sitting black legislators.
“Loretta has been a active apostle for all communities of blush in Oregon, particularly for the atramentous community,” said accompaniment Sen. Lew Frederick, who represents North Portland. “She is unparalleled in her accomplishments of accretion economic, educational and assurance net opportunities to our community, and that’s why we support her.”
But her acknowledgment to the county’s assay appears to accept bulk her politically.
In her 2014 re-election attack at the county, Smith was accustomed by all four of her colleagues on the county board.
None of the sitting associates of the canton agency accept accustomed Smith in her run for Portland Burghal Council. All four beneath to animadversion for this story.
She does accept the abutment of two of her above colleagues, commissioners Jules Bailey and Diane McKeel.
“Loretta has a appearance that sometimes bodies can acquisition abrasive. But I’ve apparent aboriginal duke that it gets results,” Bailey said. “And at the end of the day, in burghal hall, we charge somebody who knows what their bulk priorities are and what their basal band is and will accommodate for that.”
In 2014, she additionally won endorsements from U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Portland Burghal Commissioners Nick Fish, Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz.
Fritz and Blumenauer accept both accustomed Smith’s adversary in the burghal board race, Jo Ann Hardesty. Saltzman and Fish haven’t made endorsements.
This summer, a ample accessible area union, the SEIU bounded 49, accustomed her opponent.
Felisa Hagins, the political administrator of SEIU Bounded 49, says the union’s associates had austere anxiety about Smith. Some associates assignment as janitors charwoman county buildings.
“Our workers apperceive some of the agents Loretta has interacted with,” Hagins said. “That advised heavily in their decision.”
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