WashCo Chair Harrington’s ‘explosive tendencies’ in spotlight

Special Reports

Kathryn Harrington is Washington County's top elected leader

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A KOIN 6 News investigation found Washington County is paying out thousands of dollars after its top elected leader, Kathryn Harrington, is accused of creating a “toxic work environment.”

Harrington, the current chair of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, was previously on the Metro Council. KOIN 6 News also discovered employees reported “feeling bullied, shamed, intimidated and scolded without the ability to speak up or defend themselves.”

The accusations of a “toxic” work environment under Harrington came to a head following a presentation she made to her former colleagues at Metro Council on June 17, 2021, about how money should be spent on services for the homeless.

When she was done it quickly became apparent members of the Metro Council were confused by Harrington’s speech.

“Chair Harrington just texted me and said the wrong letter was sent,” said Council President Lynn Peterson said.

Behind the scenes, Harrington blamed her chief of staff, Elizabeth Mazzara Myers, for the mistake.

According to a letter obtained by KOIN 6 News — which Mazzara Myers’ lawyer sent to Washington County — Harrington “…stormed into Ms. Mazzara Myers’s office yelling, stating she was embarrassed and angry and needed to know what happened.”

Her time at Metro

Kathryn Harrington in a photo from the Metro Council website, around 2018

The letter said Harrington shared the blame for the mistake and also said: “If this matter is not resolved at this stage, discovery will reveal that Chair Harrington’s explosive tendencies are well-known, and others, including elected colleagues, have expressed concern about the Chair’s threatening demeanor…”

Tom Hughes, who was president of the Metro Council when Harrington was there, told KOIN 6 News there were “two or three times we had incidents where Kathryn had kind of blown up at one of the staff members.”

In 2015, Hughes sent a letter to Harrington that said she was “creating a climate of fear, hostility anxiety, emotional distress” and that “staff at all levels of the agency have reported these types of interactions with you…”

Hughes also wrote, “You have accused staff of ‘having secret meetings’, of conspiring, and of trying to keep information from you or the Council.”

“She would reach down into the departments and explode at someone she felt had not provided her with as much information as she thought she needed in order to make a decision,” Hughes told KOIN 6 News.

Asked if it was a hostile work environment, Hughes said he didn’t think Harrington “had the capability at Metro to create a hostile work environment. I think that it was her part of it could be hostile.”

Kathryn Harrington in a photo from the Metro Council website, around 2018

Her behavior improved after he called her out, he said.

But in September, Washington County had to reach a separation agreement with Harrington’s chief of staff. The settlement includes paying Mazzara Myers $71,413.60 in full wages for 6 months, until the end of March 2022, along with $7100 in legal fees plus “all benefits.”

Harrington declined KOIN 6 News request for an interview but provided this statement:

“From my standpoint, this is an employee personnel matter, and I take the protections of our staff and their faith in those protections very seriously. Thus, I can’t and won’t comment on this particular case. My focus is on the critical work that needs to be done to deliver for Washington County families as we recover and rebuild from COVID-19.”

In the settlement, Washingotn County agreed to give Mazzara Myers a letter of recommendation. Both sides agreed “not to make any negative statements regarding” each other or the county. That makes it difficult for KOIN 6 News to get anyone to speak about this issue.

Several elected officials told KOIN 6 News they will watch this story closely.

“Having listened to what some of my friends at the county have been saying,” Hughes said, “it doesn’t appear that the problem entirely went away. But at least it got better while she was at Metro.”

Harrington is running for re-election in November 2022.

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