EUGENE, Ore. (CN) – Squabbling in a county assessor’s office has gone nuclear in southern Oregon, where the recalled assessor claims the Coos County Board of Commissioners released a scorching letter criticizing his “dictatorial” and “hostile” management style to retaliate for his release of “thousands of sexually explicit, racist and offens[iv]e emails” that came from the assessor’s office while his predecessor – now a defendant commissioner – was the assessor.
Adam Colby sued Coos County and Commissioner Robert Main in Federal Court.
Main preceded Colby in office. Coos County in Southwest Oregon.
Colby was elected Coos County Assessor in May 2008 and took office in January 2009. He fired Christina Karsen in March 2010.
The Board of Commissioners immediately rehired her, put her on administrative leave, and asked Portland attorney Jill Goldsmith to investigate the firing.
Colby says the Board of Commissioners rejected his request for a meeting to discuss “litigation and potential litigation,” and his performance as assessor.
In June 2010, Colby acknowledges, he “released to the public thousands of sexually explicit, racist and offense [sic] emails that were generated by Coos County and Coos County Assessor’s office employees while Defendant Main was Assessor.”
The Register-Guard newspaper reported that the emails included “racist material targeting African Americans and Latinos, crude sexual jokes, and photos of cute animals.”
On June 29, 2010, the Board of Commissioners sent Colby a letter outlining its concerns about his actions as assessor. The scorching letter, which was a result of Goldsmith’s investigation, was made public a week later.
In his federal complaint, Colby claims that the letter “contained several false statements concerning [his] management style and behavior”.
The letter claimed Colby had fired Karsen without consulting the Human Resources Department or county counsel, “in blatant disregard” of county policies to prevent litigation.
The letter adds: “To date the County has incurred expenses in excess of $200,000 dealing with Workers Compensation stress claims, tort claim notices, legal fees and other expenses related to employee claims in the Assessor’s office since you took office.”
The letter added that Colby’s staff did “not feel comfortable in the workplace and feel berated and intimidated.”
It said: “Continual monitoring and micromanaging has left employees with low morale and created an unproductive and hostile work environment, increasing county legal liabilities and cost.”
It said Colby’s staff felt he was “dictatorial” and “a bully,” and that some employees worried about being left alone with him in the office.
Colby disputes the allegations. He says the letter “contained several false statements concerning the management style and behavior of plaintiff. The letter falsely accused plaintiff of costing the county over $200,000.00 in expenses. In some instances, the letter misrepresented findings made by Ms. Goldsmith in her report. In other instances, the letter restated findings that the Board of Commissioners knew or had reason to know where [sic] not true.”
A petition for Colby’s recall was filed on July 17. County voters recalled him on Dec. 7.
Colby’s claims the board released its letter to retaliate for his release of the offensive emails. He also says the county did not give him an opportunity to challenge Goldsmith’s findings. He seeks lost wages and damages for deprivation of his civil rights. He is represented by Adam Q. Gould of Coos Bay.