Supervisor Bohn Makes Misogynistic Comment at Chamber Event

Chamber CEO: 'We do not support sexual harassment or disrespect'



Amid the fallout from Humboldt County First District Supervisor Rex Bohn's misogynistic comments while serving as an auctioneer at her organization's Jan. 27 fundraiser, Eureka Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Nancy Olson said the nonprofit is taking steps to prevent something similar from happening in the future.

Bohn's comment came at the Eureka Chamber of Commerce's Cocktails and Crooners fundraiser and 2023 awards gala at the Sequoia Conference Center, 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 owner would "serve topless," as recounted to the Journal by multiple attendees.

In a statement sent to the Journal in response to a request for comment, Olson did not address Bohn by name but indicated she regrets an "incident" like this happened at an event aimed to celebrate "exemplary local businesses, organizations and individuals" and welcome new board members.

"Our chamber stands for inclusion and respect," Olson said. "We do not support sexual harassment or disrespect of people of any gender, regardless of humorous intent. We regret that an incident involving this type of behavior happened at our event and that it caused harm. We are taking, and will continue to take, steps to mitigate the chance of something like this happening at any of our events, meetings or gatherings in the future."

Bohn's comments first spilled into full public view during the Jan. 31 meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, which opened with him reading a brief prepared apology. Immediately after the Pledge of Allegiance, Bohn asked 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 to "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 addressed a question to staff about its presentation. After some further discussion, 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 the 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.

Eureka Mayor Kim Bergel said she was chatting with some other people at her table when the comment was made, saying "it kind of stopped the conversation for a moment" amid a collective sense of, "Did that just really happen?" Bergel said that while she didn't take personal offense at the comment, she felt it was inappropriate and elected officials are and should be held to a higher standard and model good behavior.

But Bergel said she's also been on the receiving end of this type of comment from Bohn previously, saying she was participating in the Perilous Plunge fundraiser, representing the school she worked for, some years back, with Bohn serving as the event's announcer. Bergel said she was wearing very high-heeled shoes, which she speculates caused Bohn to say into the microphone to the assembled crowd that she "looked like a pole dancer."

"I didn't appreciate it," Bergel said.

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 respond to a request to comment for this story and attempts to reach 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.

Some have questioned whether the comment was in violation of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors' code of conduct, which states that board members' professional and personal conduct must be "above reproach" and they should "practice civility and decorum," and refrain from abusive conduct. The board has also in recent years passed abusive conduct and harassment policies that would seemingly outlaw similar behavior in a county workplace. Bohn voted in support of all three measures.

At the Jan. 31 board meeting, 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."

Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson thanked Arroyo for her comments, saying it's "uncomfortable" and "takes bravery" but did not add anything further. With no further conversation, the board voted 5-0 to accept staff's report on the Workplace 2030! initiative and adjourned. 

Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery said he attended the chamber event but didn't hear Bohn's comment when it made and was told of it afterward. Slattery said he was "amazed" to later bring it up to a chamber member only to have them dismiss it as, "Rex being Rex." Slattery said he told the member, who he declined to identify to the Journal, he felt Bohn should have been cut off, saying he believes it important to address situations like these in real time so they are not later "minimized."

"If someone had said this at a city of Eureka event, that person would have been pulled from the stage and asked to leave," Slattery said.

Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at (707) 442-1400, extension 321, or


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