First District Supervisor Rex Bohn reads a prepared apology.
Humboldt County First District Supervisor Rex Bohn opened this morning’s board meeting with a vague apology for a misogynistic comment he made as an auctioneer at a recent fundraising event.
While it was never recounted in detail at the board meeting, Bohn’s comment came at the Eureka Chamber of Commerce’s Cocktails and Crooner’s fundraiser and 2023 awards gala at the Sequoia Conference Center on Friday, which was attended by hundreds of people. When a tour and dinner for eight donated by a local woman-owned restaurant came up for bid, Bohn said that if the bids got high enough, the business owner would “serve topless,” as recounted to the Journal
by multiple attendees.
With this bubbling behind the surface, the board convened for its meeting this morning. Immediately after the pledge of allegiance, Bohn asked Board Chair Steve Madrone if he would “indulge” him “for a moment.” After Madrone gave the OK, Bohn quickly read from a brief prepared statement.
“It has been brought to my attention that this weekend I was an auctioneer at my 742nd auction — volunteer auctioneer — and said something that was inappropriate,” Bohn said. “I want to apologize and for that acknowledge it. Thank you.”
The board then dove into its regular agenda, leaving it unclear exactly what Bohn had apologized for. But the matter came back up in the board’s last agenda item of the day, a presentation on the county’s Workplace 2030! initiative
, on ongoing effort to implement an organizational culture change in county government. A presentation by staff was followed by brief statements from Madrone and Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell that appeared somewhat off topic. Madrone used himself as an example, pointing to a time when he made an “inappropriate” comment that he had to be made aware of and saying the first step was apologizing, but then he really needed “embrace the change.” Bushnell then said communication is key, saying she’s noticed “our culture or even our board here” can be intolerant and get into “tattletale-type things” when she believes it’s “so important” for someone who’s taken offense to a comment or action to “communicate with someone on an individual level first.”
Recently seated Fourth District Supervisor Natalie Arroyo then indicated she had some “additional comments” she wanted to make after public comment on the agenda item, and then addressed a question to staff about its presentation. After some further discussion of the agenda item and public comment, Madrone again turned the microphone over to Arroyo, who said she sees these “ideals” in the initiative that the board is essentially “adopting” — things like “respectful exchanges, treating others with dignity and cultivating public trust” — and that she’d received a comment from a member of the public that she wanted to read in to the record in full because “it addresses something that happened recently.”
Before launching into the statement, Arroyo, appearing nervous, said she felt like the board “was talking around an issue” and that “something happened this last weekend with one of my colleagues and I’m still feeling like the efforts that were made to address it don’t feel very complete or holistic.”
Arroyo then read the comment submitted by Leila Roberts, which began by noting that Bohn had made a “sexualized joke” about a local business owner three nights earlier in front of a “packed room of more than 200 business and community leaders gathered to celebrate the region’s most effective, most generous institutions.” Roberts then described the impact of Bohn’s joke on the business owner it was about.
“I watched her face fall, even as she was surrounded by friends and admirers,” Arroyo read, quoting from Roberts’ statement. “I saw disgust, confusion, stunned silence among some audience members who heard the comment. A few laughed uncomfortably. This event was a triumphant and joyful return to in-person celebration for an organization also led by one of our community’s most extraordinary women leaders. How can Mr. Bohn have taken this as an opportunity to demean one of the event’s donors?”
Roberts’ statement went on to describe Bohn’s comment as a “classic expression of hostile sexism.”
“It’s not funny; nor is it a small glitch,” her statements reads. “Disparaging humor is a classic strategy to delegitimize, devalue and dehumanize a member of another group. It’s a widely studied phenomenon with reams of data to back up how damaging this can be. There are currently 1.24 million women-owned employer firms in the country, and studies show over and over how many left their former firms because of discrimination in the workplace, only to encounter discrimination as entrepreneurs as well.”
In an email exchange with the Journal
after today’s meeting, Arroyo said she attended the chamber event on Friday, and actually wound up the winning bidder on the item in question, saying she’d come to the event planning to bid on it. As such, she said she “could not have missed” Bohn’s comment, saying others at the event also “expressed concern” about it.
This isn’t the first time Bohn has drawn criticism for making comments widely construed as demeaning. At a fundraiser in March of 2019, while auctioning off a Mexican food dinner, he asked
the donor if it was “so authentic that we’re going to want to steal hubcaps after we eat.”
Bohn did not immediately respond to a request to comment for this story and attempts to reach the chamber and the business owner who was the subject of the sexist and crude comment were not successful. Multiple other attendees of the event declined to comment on the record.
Roberts’ comment ended with an urging that the board “address this unacceptable pattern of behavior with their peer.” After reading Roberts’ remarks into the record, Arroyo said she has addressed the matter with Bohn directly, and she understands he’s reached out directly to some involved. But she said the statement involved was “quite egregious” and made at a “very large public event,” so she feels a “more comprehensive response is warranted toward prevention.”
Wilson thanked Arroyo for her comments, saying it’s “uncomfortable” and “takes bravery,” but did not add anything further. With that, the board voted 5-0 to accept staff’s report on the Workplace 2030! initiative and adjourned.
See Leila Roberts’ full comment copied below and watch the meeting here
Three nights ago your fellow County Supervisor Rex Bohn made a sexualized joke about a business owner in front of a packed room of more than two hundred business and community leaders gathered to celebrate the region’s most effective, most generous institutions.
I watched her face fall, even as she was surrounded by friends and admirers. I saw disgust, confusion, stunned silence among some audience members who heard the comment. A few laughed uncomfortably. This event was a triumphant and joyful return to in-person celebration for an organization also led by one of our community’s most extraordinary women leaders. How can Mr. Bohn have taken this as an opportunity to demean one of the event’s donors?
This business owner, no one will be surprised to hear, is a woman. Her business is one of our county’s leading lights: they run a great shop, are deeply generous, and are well-loved and respected. They’ve made it through some very challenging ups and downs, and continue to thrive as a major employer and taxpayer.
But their success apparently doesn’t protect them from casual, public, sexist contempt. Protecting them can be our job, which is why I’m writing to you asking that you’ll read my comments into the record during tomorrow’s discussion about the County’s workplace culture, titled "Introduction of Workplace 2030! - A Comprehensive Organizational Development and Culture Change Initiative". I'm very sorry my schedule doesn't allow me to join live.
I want Mr. Bohn held to the same standard of accountability as any executive or public servant. Bawdy humor can be fun: in private, among close friends, delivered in a way that no one is demeaned. What Mr. Bohn did, however, was a classic expression of hostile sexism. It’s not funny; nor is it a small glitch. Disparaging humor is a classic strategy to delegitimize, devalue, and dehumanize a member of another group. It’s a widely studied phenomenon with reams of data to back up how damaging this can be. There are currently 1.24 million women-owned employer firms in the country, and studies show over and over how many left their former firms because of discrimination in the workplace, only to encounter discrimination as entrepreneurs as well.
I sometimes recommend business owners turn to their state, city, and county electeds when they need help navigating difficult policies or situations. Is it wise to send business owners who are women and trans or non-binary to work with Mr. Bohn? Will they receive the respect they deserve?
I have had a few conversations with peers about this and we agree that the attention here needs to be, not on the insulted business leader, but on the problem: one of our County’s most powerful political leaders behaving in a way that dishonors himself, his constituency—including many women business owners, and the County of Humboldt. Apparently this most recent nasty, little joke is only one startling example of a pattern that simply must stop. I don’t believe in throwing people out like trash because they’ve messed up; but I do believe in accountability.
Our region is full of bright, decent men in positions of leadership. I’d like to see them speak up, man to man, about this. The County is committed to cultivating a workplace where everyone thrives. I’d like to see the Board of Supervisors address this unacceptable pattern of behaviour with their peer.
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