Multnomah Co. chair publicly apologizes for calling Commissioner - KPTV - FOX 12

Multnomah Co. chair publicly apologizes for calling Commissioner Smith inappropriate name

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A heated exchange between Multnomah County Chair Deb Kafoury and Commissioner Loretta Smith back in December created controversy in the community, and on Thursday during the first public meeting since the exchange, Kafoury publicly apologized for her actions.

During the Dec. 21 meeting, Kafoury brings up the issue of who would replace her if she was unable to do her job, and says she would choose the current COO of Multnomah County.

Smith speaks up and says she is concerned her choice would not be able to stay impartial. 

Video of the meeting shows one man making a public comment and once he finishes, Kafoury called for a vote but Smith cuts in to ask another question.

The video then shows Smith and Kafoury talking over each other several times until Kafoury gavelled the meeting to a close.

According to Smith, after the meeting adjourned and cameras stopped rolling, Kafoury called her an inappropriate name. Later that day, both women released statements on the incident.

On Thursday, Kafoury publicly apologized and said she was proud to serve on a council made of racially diverse women.

"It was unprofessional and disrespectful for me to express my feelings to her in such a manner. I would ask Commissioner Smith to join me in moving forward in our professional relationship, to continue to respect each other and all of our Multnomah County colleagues and disagree with each other without mudslinging or name calling," said Kafoury.

Smith was not at Thursday's meeting after she called in sick. But plenty of her supporters were at the meeting and when it was time for public comment, they had a few harsh words for Chair Kafoury, some even urging her to resign.

"You need to step up to what you did. The right thing to do would be to resign," said one person at the meeting.

The commissioners ended Thursday's meeting with no indication that there would be any action taken against Chair Kafoury.

FOX 12 reached out to Smith's office for comment on Thursday. Smith sent the following statement:

Today in the County Board room Chair Kafoury issued another apology for her actions of December 21. Following the reading of her apology members of the community bravely came forward to share their thoughts, concerns, and opinions.

In response to all that was said, I first want to say "thank you" to the community leaders and community members, young and old, who came out today to share their support. I am sorry that I was home sick and couldn't be there to thank each one of you in person.

I would like to clarify that the Chair left a voicemail message for me extending an apology for 'getting so mad'. Chair Kafoury and I have not had a conversation since this event. Her apology was not in person and it was given with an explanation. I think it's unfortunate that the Chair continues to provide misleading comments about this.

In the past few weeks I've reflected on Shirley Chisholm's statement that, "In the end anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing -- anti-humanism."

Chair Kafoury's comment to me had no place in our boardroom or in our organization. When we degrade each other, we strip away one another's basic humanity.

Equity is something you have to live. And when community members call out the County Chair for using racially charged language to demean and degrade another Commissioner, her calls for equity in the County workplace fall flat.

If we are to truly "move ahead" from this situation, then I encourage the Chair to take me up on my offer of a mediated conversation. This is an offer I have put before the Chair several times. And she has refused. Now is the time for us to set an example.

I also believe that all of my colleagues on the Commission should join me in a program to better understand one another's cultures and how that affects our approach to conversation and conflict.  If we are going to move the County towards true workplace equity, we as a Board must be willing to lead.

Finally, I ask that the Chair acknowledge that it wasn't just me that was affected by this incident.

As we saw today, the ripples were wide. I do believe if the roles were reversed, the Chair would have personally called for my resignation. I am not about to do that. I will leave that between the Chair and the community that elected her. But I will say that I think it's time Multnomah County takes a hard look at the biases we all carry with us and start doing the real work of bringing equity to the work we do.

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