Portland Mayor Charlie Hales talked with OPB’s Think Out Loud Wednesday before the detention hearing for Reaz Qadir Khan had been completed.
Dave Miller: When did you first hear about yesterday’s indictment?
Charlie Hales: We were informed in advance that there was going to be such a case coming forward, but not any of the details, and then we received the news yesterday afternoon.
DM: Were you informed in advance that a Portland man and a city employee would be arrested before he actually was arrested?
CH: We were given that advance warning but again no particulars.
DM: What was your first response to the news?
CH: Well, shock. These things seem far away. Of course we had the Pioneer Courthouse Square case, so that brought it home. But shock that that would happen here, and that one of our employees would be accused of such a crime and arrested for it.
DM: You talk about a very different kind of crime, if for no other reason than it happened on our soil, the Christmas tree lighting plot. Did you hear from the FBI that they considered khan a domestic threat?
CH: No, we hadn’t heard any of those kinds of characterizations, just the case that you’ve heard of.
DM: How long has Reaz Qadir Khan been a city employee?
CH: I think he began work in November of 2005 working for the Bureau of Environmental Services at our wastewater treatment plant.
DM: And what exactly does his job entail?
CH: He’s an operator there, so he operates the equipment. It’s a complicated plant as you might expect with a lot of pumps and chlorinators and other technical equipment that used to process the sewage. So it’s a big technical job and he’s one of our employees who operates that equipment and makes the plant run.
DM: Under that job does he have access to Portland’s potable water system?
CH: No, this is just on the wastewater treatment side.
DM: So he doesn’t have anything to do with the water that we end up drinking?
CH: That’s right.
DM: What kind of a background check does an employee in his position go through?
CH: Well we do encourage every bureau to conduct criminal records checks when we hire a new employee, that’s the policy today and it was also the policy in 2005. I haven’t yet seen the paper trail on Mr. Khan’s hiring and don’t know if that policy was followed in that case. It’s also unclear whether a criminal records check would have uncovered the kind of actions that have been outlined in these allegations.
DM: Will this change anything about the way the city does its background checks, or what it looks for in a background check?
CH: I think it’s too early to tell, and this is still of course an accusation and a criminal case and Mr. Khan is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. If that’s the case, if he is proven guilty, that will make the need to reexamine what we do even more serious. No matter what I think this gives us cause, gives us reason to check on how we operate, how we screen employees, how we monitor things within the responsibility of being a good employer, but also respecting people’s privacy. But all those questions are raised with this and if he’s convicted that will be redoubled.
DM: A few minutes ago at a press conference your spokesperson Dana Haynes said that if a person is arrested the city can put them on administrative leave but the city cannot fire somebody without just cause. Will Khan be put on administrative leave?
CH: That’s the most likely scenario; that if he’s released he’ll be placed on paid administrative leave while the case is pending.
DM: Dana Haynes also said the city is not conducting it’s own investigation. Why not?
CH: Because everything we know so far in this indictment is that Mr. Khan’s alleged activities were involving his activities as an individual to allegedly support terrorism overseas. There’s no allegation that we know of that he had any criminal intent towards anyone in Portland, nor anything in particular to do with his job.
DM: Do you know if any city computers were used for these alleged communications with people in Pakistan?
CH: I do not know that yet, I think that’s one of the questions that will obviously be investigated if not by the FBI then by us.