PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — KOIN 6 News learned Washington County hired an independent investigator to look at the behavior of its top elected official, Kathryn Harrington.
The county is already paying Harrington’s former chief of staff, Elizabeth Mazzara Myers, nearly $80,000 in wages and legal fees after Mazzara Myers accused Harrington of creating a toxic work environment.
Other local leaders question Harrington’s ability to lead and said her ongoing behavior is part of a pattern. One leader said she could help the county by resigning.
‘One of the first to endorse her’
Dick Schouten spent 20 years as a Washington County commissioner. He said he saw eye-to-eye with Harrington when it came to politics for the 2 years they overlapped.
“I was one of the very first people to endorse her actually,” Schouten told KOIN 6 News. “I think both with respect to her relationship with senior staff, with other people in the community and elected, she lost her temper, was very disrespectful and just doesn’t have that ability to work well with others.”
What Schouten saw echoed what KOIN 6 News reported in December.
KOIN 6 News has now obtained a document that shows Washington County will pay attorney Michael V. Tom of NW Workplace Investigations up to $25,000 for as long as a year to investigate how Harrington has treated county employees.
Harrington’s questionable behavior goes back to the years she served as an elected member of the Metro Council. In 2015, the Metro president told Harrington in a letter she was “creating a climate of fear, hostility, anxiety, emotional distress.”
In a portion of a letter to the county from Mazzara Myers’ lawyer, County Commissioner Pam Treece was quoted: “I’m sorry and please do NOT second guess yourself. … This is a pattern that should not continue.”
Schouten said a flyer showing the county brought in a mediator for “team development” is an indication of the rift Harrington caused between county commissioners.
“We didn’t have issues like this in the past,” he said. He pointed to a Facebook post Harrington wrote on a page that promotes women in politics:
“Three cheers for standing up to the status quo! Who’s in? The pressure from male elected officials to maintain the status quo especially to keep supporting the current male elected officials 100% of the time is very real! Last year, I supported a long-time male colleague challenged by a really good female candidate. Lesson learned…”
The post goes on to encourage a list of women to run for office before finishing: “Let’s smash the patriarchy out here in Washington County!”
That post, from January 2020, came at a time when Washington County was working to promote equity and inclusion.
“Our ability to work well really decreased markedly after she came on the board. And I put that mostly on her,” he told KOIN 6 News.
‘It doesn’t help if you are intimidating’
Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway felt compelled to speak up after hearing from people concerned about their interactions with Harrington and the ability of cities to work with Washington County.
“People are glad, as I mentioned, that your story is bringing to light some of these concerns,” Callaway said.
Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake — who was a long-time Beaverton mayor — agrees.
“It doesn’t help if you are intimidating people or being dismissive,” Drake said.
He’s concerned how he and his library director were treated by Harrington when they brought her an issue over funding and equity.
“We offered a solution and it was all basically dismissed and it was a surprise,” Drake said. “That’s all.”
Asked if she was hostile, Drake said, “I think ‘dismissive’ is probably a better word.”
North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan endorsed Harrington the first time she ran for Washington County Chair. But she is one of 3 mayors who held a meeting with Harrington to discuss how she was treating mayors of the cities in the county in their long-standing monthly meetings meant to build collaboration.
After the meeting, Lenahan said, Harrington’s behavior improved. But she said there is still friction between Harrington and some mayors.
This time around, Lenahan is not endorsing Kathryn Harrington.
“I am troubled by what I saw and experienced because you don’t treat people that way,” she told KOIN 6 News.
Asked if she should resign, Lenahan said, “I think it’s the voters who should really decide.”
“I think that it really calls into question, you know, whether or not somebody should continue,” Callaway said. “And so I’m not at this point saying she should resign, but I’m saying that certainly that the pattern of behaviors, is pretty, is pretty concerning.”
Drake said, “I’m a big supporter of democracy as it is and voters will decide that, her fate.”
Schouten was much less circumspect.
“I think it would actually help the county if she did. But again, she certainly hasn’t done anything that’s unethical or dishonest, you typically think of a resignation,” Schouten said “But I think there is a significant failing there, so I think she actually would help the county if she did.”
Harrington is up for re-election in May against Beach Pace, who is currently a city council member in Hillsboro.
Pace is endorsed by Callaway and Lenahan.
KOIN 6 News reached out repeatedly to Kathryn Harrington for an interview for this story. She declined.