The Ousters of Tricia Tillman and Joanne Fuller

Tricia Tillman Dismissed as Public Health Director
The Skanner, September 12, 2017

Multnomah County accused of ‘systemic’ racism
Portland Tribune, September 12, 2017

Alleged racism in Multnomah County prompts Chair Deborah Kafoury to pledge action
Oregonian, September 15, 2017

Packed audience mulls county workforce equity
Hearing focuses on manager who is being forced out, but other employees complain about racism, too
Portland Tribune, September 21, 2017

Tillman’s Firing Ignites Plan for Systemic Racism in the County
The Skanner, September 21, 2017

County Settles with Tillman, Joanne Fuller Retires
The Skanner, September 26, 2017

Multnomah report finds no racism in ouster of Tricia Tillman
Documents released show staff complaints, but Tillman says she was blindsided.
Portland Tribune, September 26, 2017

READ – Multnomah County’s Workforce Equity Strategic Plan (PDF), August 2017

Top Multnomah county manager, Joanne Fuller, retires abruptly
Portland Tribune – updated to September 25, 2017

A longtime top Multnomah County manager, Joann Fuller, retired abruptly Monday following the controversial ouster of public health director Tricia Tillman.

Tillman last week was given a settlement worth more than a year’s pay after her letter accusing the county of institutional racism went public.

The sudden ouster sparked concerns in the community and among county employees, as Tillman has been prominent, has many allies, and, indeed, was considered by many to be Fuller’s likely successor.

Tillman’s Sept. 7 letter to the county board sparked the controversy when it went public in the Portland Tribune and The Skanner newspapers. The letter implicitly criticized Fuller, who until Monday headed the health department.

After news broke of Tillman’s situation, a group of community leaders sent the board a letter accusing Fuller’s department of “orchestrating” Tillman’s ouster, calling it “unacceptable.”

In an email to fellow county managers, county commissioners and staff Monday morning, Fuller gave no reason for her decision, saying, “As some of you know, I have been thinking about retiring for some time. I have decided that now is the time. I will be leaving my position as Multnomah County Health Department Director at close of business today. I am grateful that it is possible for me to step back from high-pressure, full-time work and pursue my many other passions.”

Fuller could not be reached for comment, and her email account sent an auto-reply saying she was out of the office Monday.

Her announcement, came shortly after Chair Deborah Kafoury launched an investigation of how Tillman’s situation was handled. It also came about one business day after the county reached a settlement with Tillman — one that was worth about three times what officials had offered her before the investigation launched by Kafoury.

In her letter to the Multnomah County board earlier this month, Tillman, who is African-American, said she was being forced out despite good performance evaluations and feedback from Fuller.

Tillman’s ouster sparked concerned testimony to the board, calls for an independent investigation, and a

Sept. 13 letter from a group of 14 local minority leaders to the board calling her treatment “unacceptable.”

Under Tillman’s settlement, the county agrees to provide her with administrative leave from Sept. 14, 2017, through Aug. 14, 2018. On top of that, it will pay her a $25,000 lump sum, and provide her an agreed-upon letter of reference.

“I have opted to put this situation behind me in order to focus on my family and move forward in my career,” said Tillman in a statement relayed by her attorney, Dana Sullivan, earlier this week. “Even though my dispute with the County has been resolved, I hope that people continue to hold the County’s feet to the fire to address the systemic issues illustrated by the courageous stories shared by so many during last week’s hearing.”

The terms of the settlement were a significant improvement for Tillman from where things stood as of Sept. 7, when she sent her letter the board. At that time, she’d been offered “slightly more than” four months severance, she wrote. Considering her salary of $149,221, that suggested a settlement of $50,000 or a little more.

Her new settlement is worth approximately three times the county’s earlier proposal.

Reasons for ouster unknown

Performance reviews released under Oregon’s records law show that Tillman was praised for her work at the six-month and 18-month marks of her tenure after leaving the state for the county in January 2015.

“This has been a great year for Tricia as she has dug into leadership of the new Public Health Division,” said the June 27, 2016, review signed by Fuller. Fuller credited Tillman’s leadership for a variety of successes by the department. “Tricia has a wonderful calming style that helps people focus on the work at hand. She is very supportive of her people and clear with them about expectations and results. I am very pleased with her work and the work of the public health division this year.”

In April 2017, Tillman took family leave to care for her mother, who suffers from Stage 4 lung cancer. Tillman returned to the county on July 5 and asked for her performance review, she wrote in her Sept. 7 letter. In response, Fuller, “told me that a review would not be necessary, as she said they are perfunctory and she would take care of it so that my increases could take effect,” Tillman wrote.

Fuller told Tillman to go

But in a meeting on Aug. 18, Tillman wrote, Fuller informed her she would be demoted and allowed a “graceful” exit after two to three months — but could not remain at the county. Two subordinates had said they could not work with her, according to Tillman.

The limited information available so far on Tillman’s treatment caused questions among those who worked for her and with her in her previous job at the Oregon Health Authority, as well as an earlier stint at Multnomah County.

“I’ve known Tricia for many years and found her to be an excellent leader,” said Dr. Ken Rosenberg, the recently-retired former chief science officer for the Oregon Health Authority’s public health division, who worked with Tillman there. “Her firing sounds fishy. I’ve never heard of someone legitimately fired because subordinates could not work with her.”

Fller’s email to staff that announced her retirement concluded, “It has been the highest honor for me to work with the wonderful employees of Multnomah County for 29 plus years. Multnomah County employees have an unusual combination of smarts, caring, skills and commitment that makes our local government special. All of you come to work every day ready to serve our whole community. This community needs you and you are always there. I will miss working with all of you and wish you the very best.”

READ – Letter from Tricia Tillman to the Multnomah County Board of Directors (PDF), September 2017

READ – Letter to Multnomah County Commissioners on behalf of Tricia Tillman (PDF), by Kali Thorne Ladd, Lolenzo Poe, Sen. Avel Gordly (Ret.), Ron Herndon, Tony Hopson, Joseph Santos-Lyons, Dr. T. Allen Bethel, Joyce Harris, Rukaiyah Adams, Kayse Jama, Sen. Margaret Carter (Ret.), Alberto Moreno, Cyreena Boston Ashby, Pastor W.G.Hardy Jr.

READ – Tillman Performance Review (PDF), 2016

READ – Tillman settlement agreement (PDF)

Multnomah County Health Department Director Joanne Fuller Abruptly Retires
Announcement follows county’s paying a hefty settlement to former director of public health.
Willamette Week, September 26, 2017

Multnomah County Health Director Joanne Fuller retires suddenly amid allegations of systemic racism
Oregonian, September 26, 2017

Multnomah health director, Joanne Fuller, retires abruptly following controversial ouster
Fuller forced out Tricia Tillman, leading to $165,000 settlement and criticism of Fuller.
September 25, 2016

Dear Colleagues,

As some of you know​,​ I have been thinking about retiring for some time. I have decided that now is the time. I will be leaving my position as Multnomah County Health Department Director at close of business today. I am grateful that it is possible for me to step back from ​high pressure ​full time work and pursue my many ​other ​passions.

​I​t has been the highest honor for me to work with the wonderful employees of Multnomah County for 29 plus years. Multnomah County employees have a ​unusual ​combination of smarts, caring, skills and commitment that makes our local government special. ​All of you come to work everyday ready to serve our whole community. This community needs you and you are always there. ​I will miss working with all of you​ and wish you the very best. ​

​Take care,​

Joanne​ Fuller – Multnomah County Health Department Director​

Dear colleagues,

I wanted you to know that Joanne Fuller is retiring as Health Department Director.

In an email to staff this morning, Joanne said she had been planning to retire for some time and had decided now is that time. I accepted her notification letter effective 5 p.m. today. I have asked Deputy Director Wendy Lear to step in as interim director in the short term while the I work with the Department to formulate a medium and long-range plan. Integrated Clinical Services will report directly to Multnomah County Chief Operating Officer Marissa Madrigal.

Joanne has overseen the Health Department’s $336 million budget and 1,400 employees since 2013. In 29 years at Multnomah County, she also served as Director of Department of County Human Services, Director of Department of Community Justice and the County’s Chief Operating Officer.

Throughout her tenure, Joanne has brought a social worker’s heart and a CEO’s mind to Multnomah County. She’s been a tireless champion for people with mental illness and disabilities, for working families and for those in the criminal justice system, especially juveniles. She brought that same steadiness and heart to to the Health Department and we are deeply grateful for her service.

In addition to leading the largest safety net health care provider in Oregon, Joanne steered the Health Department through some of its greatest challenges, including state and federal health reform, integration of Mental Health and the building of a new Gladys McCoy Health Department Headquarters.

We will miss her.

Deborah Kafoury – Multnomah County ​Chair​

Dear Health Department Colleagues,

As many of you know, Joanne Fuller announced yesterday that she’d be retiring from her position as Health Department Director after more than 29 years of service with the County. I will be acting as the Interim Director while we determine our next steps and Chair Deborah Kafoury initiates a national search for qualified candidates.

In my role as Interim Director, I’ll be overseeing Mental Health and Addiction Services, Public Health, the Health Officer, and Corrections Health. I’m also asking certain managers to take on some extra responsibilities to support Business Operations. Integrated Clinical Services will report to Marissa Madrigal, the County’s Chief Operations Officer.

The events of the past couple of weeks have been destabilizing for our organization. Concerns of systemic racism weigh heavily on us all, especially staff of color. As I begin to fill this new role, I am taking these challenges very seriously. That’s why I will be convening a series of meetings and informal brown bags to hear from you directly about your questions and concerns. The dates and times of these gatherings will be announced in a forthcoming email.

In the meantime, I’d like to assure you that we will move forward together. Our critical role and our services to our diverse communities will continue, despite any changes in leadership.

I want all of you to know that I value the unique experience and contributions that each of you brings to the Health Department. My priority is to build on these strengths and continue to preserve and foster an organization where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. I’m proud of our Department’s progress on becoming more trauma informed, and I’m pleased that work on hiring an Equity and Inclusion Manager is progressing. I also affirm the County’s commitment to implement its Workforce Equity Initiative.

Lastly, I want to thank you all for continuing to promote and protect the health of everyone in our county, even in the midst of challenging times. I look forward to partnering with you as we navigate a new chapter and work through these changes as a unified organization.


Wendy Lear, Interim Director Multnomah County Health Department

Dear MHASD Team,

Yesterday Joanne Fuller announced her retirement as Health Director after more than 29 years with the County. While a search for a new Health Department director begins, Wendy Lear will act as Interim Director.

I understand many of you have questions about how Joanne’s retirement will affect our Division. I’m also aware that you may get questions from community partners or those we are serving. Even though our leadership has changed, we remain committed to reaching our vision and goal of ensuring all residents can access behavioral health services that meet each individual’s unique need. All our programs are continuing as usual, as are our relationships with our community partners.

As we begin this new chapter, I want to remind everyone that our county has experienced change before. And while the past couple weeks have been painful for many of us, our work together continues. It is also important for you to know that our commitment to an inclusive and respectful workplace for every single employee in MHASD will remain central to supporting you and those we serve.

For those who are still wondering about our work moving forward, there will be opportunities to share your questions and concerns in a series of brown bag meetings with Wendy and department leadership. I will share the details on those meetings as soon as they are available.

I’d like to thank you all for your excellent service to our community every day, especially amidst the confusion that recent events have caused. We will move forward together.


David (Hidalgo, Multnomah County’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Division)