Douglas County Chief Financial Officer Jessica Hansen served notice in November that she plans to sue Douglas County Assessor Roger Hartman, and the county, for $3 million. She alleges that Hartman called her derogatory names, and then retaliated against her for reporting it.
Hansen declined an interview for this story, but her allegations are clearly laid out in documents The News-Review obtained in January through a public records request. Hartman said he was advised by his attorney not to talk, but chose to answer The News-Review’s questions because he believes in transparency. He called Hansen’s accusations “totally bogus.”
The county has hired independent investigator Jill Goldsmith of Portland to look into the retaliation claims.
A different investigator, Gail Fischer of Eugene, looked into the initial complaints about name-calling.
Based on the testimony of witnesses, Fischer concluded in a written report in May that Hartman had used derogatory, gender-based language such as “bitch” to describe Hansen to her co-workers. In an Aug. 25, 2015, email to another co-worker, he also put the words “‘c’ you next Tuesday” after her name. A copy of that email was received by The News-Review.
Fischer wrote in her report that “see you next Tuesday” is a euphemism for a demeaning term for a woman.
Hartman said he doesn’t recall the email, but that he thought he had referred to Hansen as “cantankerous.”
He told The News-Review he has never told Hansen she is a “bitch” and never referred to her that way publicly, “even though she certainly has acted inappropriately, like one on occasion and justifiably could be called one.”
Fischer’s report concluded Hartman had made the derogatory comments, noting that multiple staff members, including two department heads and a manager said they had heard such comments. She noted that one of the department heads was Hansen’s personal friend, but still concluded the weight of the evidence supported Hansen’s claim.
According to Hartman, the conflict boils down to policy. He said he’s proposed changes Hansen — and perhaps others at the county — didn’t like. He said he’s all about customer service and questioning polices that don’t meet “the common sense test.”
Hartman claims the previous assessor listed the market value of many properties much too high, and said he’s been working to lower them. He said that approach will lower taxes for many citizens, but has made some in county government unhappy.
According to county documents, Hansen added a wall to the tax office that blocked access by the assessor’s staff, and that became a source of friction soon after Hartman took office in 2015. Hansen’s motive, according to the documents, was to protect confidential records after budget cuts forced a reduction from five open office days to four.
Douglas County Assessor Roger Hartman is at the center of a firestorm of conflict within cou…
Hartman said he didn’t take offense, but some of his staff members did. They felt she didn’t trust them, he said, whereas he just thought the wall was a “waste of money.”
However, one employee reported hearing Hartman say, “I’m not going to let that Bitch put up a wall,” according to a memo to the Human Resources Department.
Fischer concluded that Hartman’s actions could create a hostile, offensive work environment. Following Fischer’s report, the county ordered Hartman to attend harassment training, and insisted he must not retaliate against Hansen or any other employee who participated in the investigation. It said it might not represent him in court if he retaliated.
But Hansen claims Hartman did retaliate, and that the situation worsened to the point that on Nov. 14, she gave notice to the county she intends to sue both Hartman and the county, to the tune of $3 million.
In that notice, Hansen’s attorney, Donald Johnson, wrote that his client had been retaliated against both for reporting Hartman's demeaning comments and for sending documents to the state departments of revenue and justice alleging possible wrongdoing in the assessor's office. Hansen's attorney wrote that she was harassed on a daily basis from August to November, that she faced inappropriate language, interference with her work and repeated hostility. It cites an email sent from employees in the assessor’s office, threatening claims of mail fraud, as well as two “retaliatory public record requests.”
Hartman denies these allegations.
“I have not created any sort of detrimental environment. I have not discriminated against her or anyone, in any manner, for that matter,” he said.
He particularly objected to the claims of retaliatory public record requests, noting public records were sought by Larry Saccato — who he describes as a friend, but not a person he has control over — and that it’s every citizen’s right to make public records requests.
Saccato told The News-Review that Hartman had nothing to do with his public records requests, and also noted he has every right to make them.
Hansen’s attorney called in the notice for Hartman to “be terminated immediately.”
But several county officials pointed out to The News-Review that’s not something the county can do. Because Hartman is an elected official, he could be recalled by the voters, but he can’t be fired by the commissioners.
In a memo to commissioners last year, Human Resources Director Michael Kurtz identified multiple issues between Hartman and other employees, including the situation with Hansen. Kurtz wrote that if Hartman were an ordinary department head, he would have recommended his employment be terminated.
Several county officials told The News-Review that Hansen is one of the county’s most highly valued employees, and plays a crucial role at a time when the county must cope with dwindling revenues and a looming budget crisis. She was promoted to chief financial officer last year after the county contributed toward educational expenses for her to obtain the necessary certification.
Commissioner Chris Boice, who acts as a liaison to the assessor, said the county has tried to improve the situation. It redirected emails intended for Hansen so she didn’t have to see them, for example.
Boice said the situation has nevertheless continued to worsen, but the county’s hands are tied.
“It is absolutely the desire of the county to provide a safe and equitable working environment for not only his staff but everybody that works here, and we don’t have the authority that we need in order to be able to do that...We just don’t, and that’s a problem for us,” he said.
Commissioner Tim Freeman, who served as the assessor’s liaison last year, also said he’s frustrated that the county can’t create a safe workplace for all its employees.
“We can’t fix it. We have no authority to fix it,” he said.