• Allan Classen

Old bomb still damaging years later

The Watergate break-in has been called a third-rate burglary that would not have seriously damaged the presidency of Richard Nixon had he not tried to cover it up. There is something to that summary, but the greater truth is that the break-in was part of a broad crusade to punish perceived enemies and sabotage political rivals. Any thorough investigation would have shown Nixon’s crimes, abuses of power and intimidation in pursuit of political power.

An anonymous package mailed to my home office three years ago could be called a harmless prank. I learned later I was the recipient of a glitter bomb, a commercial product composed of a spring-loaded projectile spewing glitter and a pithy message.

My wife opened the mailing tube and got a surprise. Had it been pointed toward her eyes it could have caused injury. We had no idea who sent it, although the note, “auger this,” suggested someone who disagreed with my coverage of impact-hammer pile driving, an extraordinarily loud construction practice largely replaced in cities today by drilling shafts for the piling.

I get angry messages about coverage from time to time so thought little more of it. We discarded the tube, the glitter and the note but for some reason saved the coil. Perhaps it was an old editor’s instinct to hang onto an object that might help illustrate a story someday.

About a year later, I got a call from a reporter who had heard it was sent by someone in the Office of Community and Civic Life, which includes the city noise program. That made sense. The head of the noise program, Kenya Williams, had been singularly disdainful to Pearl residents and others seeking to limit impact-hammer pile driving.

Williams went out of his way to mock citizens and their concerns. Before a Pearl forum on safety and livability issues attended by about 400 people two years ago, he proclaimed that sounds are just a matter of personal preference—just as what is music to some is noise to others.

I learned through an Oregon Public Broadcasting report last month that a Civic Life employee was advised by Williams to take a “f… you” attitude toward citizens. As deranged as that is, the phrase superbly captured Williams’ treatment of the public.

After spending $523 on two public records requests to the city, I finally know who sent the glitter bomb in 2018. It was not Williams. Katherine Couch, the Noise Program coordinator, ordered the glitter bomb, a fact she confessed last fall in a recorded interview with Shane Davis of the city’s Office of Human Resources and Michael Montoya, a manager with Civic Life.

By then it was old news to Davis and Montoya. Last July, Davis wrote in an email that Williams told his staff in 2018 that he was not happy with the Examiner’s coverage of his performance. Couch then showed Williams and other coworkers her cell-phone and said, “See. I sent the glitter bomb. I did it.”

Couch’s punishment? A private reprimand chiding her for causing “numerous hours of city staff time, a press story, an investigation involving multiple bureaus, members of the public, multiple employees and public records requests—all requiring staff time including attorney reviews. Additionally, your report to coworkers damaged your credibility, the reputation of the Noise Office, the bureau and the city.”

“Needless to say, it is unacceptable for a city employee to send a member of the media anything as a form of retaliation for an unfavorable story.”

Now we come to the really amazing part: Civic Life Director Suk Rhee wrote City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty an email this year stating “an investigation was thoroughly conducted by our office and concluded with no evidence of involvement of any city employee.”

This despite Rhee’s name on dozens of emails about the glitter bomb, including one in October in which she praised her bureau’s spokesperson for his efforts to keep the story out of the press.

In other words, Rhee’s statement to Hardesty was a lie, a cover-up of a problem she knew could be damaging to her and the bureau.

On top of all the other evidence of chaos and mismanagement at Civic Life, Hardesty now knows she cannot trust the word of the director. How much damage will a “harmless” glitter bomb be allowed to wreak?


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