What is the appropriate attire for any individual serving as an elected representative? What about when that individual is transgendered and serving in a public capacity?
This question is being asked in Silverton after Silverton Together director Brenda Sturdevant filed a formal written complaint against Silverton mayor Stu Rasmussen on July 16.
The complaint came after Rasmussen discussed leadership with Silverton area youth in early July.
“The youth were very respectful, but their faces looked shocked and many of their mouths were dropped,” Sturdevant said in the complaint. “Mayor Rasmussen was in a very bold red and black outfit. He was wearing high heels, a very short skirt and some sort of halter top revealing much of his bosom, shoulders and back.”
Before filing the complaint, Sturdevant said she called and e-mailed Rasmussen several times asking to meet with him. However, she said she received no response and felt she had to address the situation.
In the complaint letter, Sturdevant cited Silverton Resolution 06.23 put into effect on July 10, 2006 that defines what is appropriate and inappropriate dress for men and women. It states miniskirts and midriff-baring or tank tops are inappropriate while conducting city business.
“As a manager or employee, when there is a policy in effect, I’m expected to follow it or I could lose my job,” Sturdevant said. “This letter goes back to the policies that are in place and why he thinks he is exempt.”
In a response letter, Rasmussen highlighted a portion of the Silverton Together Mission Statement which includes, “Our goal is to raise awareness of the diversity that lies not only within our own community.” The nonprofit isn’t fulfilling its mission with this complaint,” Rasmussen said.
“It is surprising and disappointing that an organization chartered to promote diversity and cultural understanding would take a public position of intolerance,” he responded.” He also addressed his desire to see the dress code policy rescinded.
“Silverton voters have spoken plainly and openly that the issue of personal attire or appearance is not relevant to their choices for Council representatives, so it is clearly time to rescind this resolution before it becomes an embarrassing public issue for our community,” he said in the letter.
There are currently no specific laws under Oregon revised statutes that prohibit dress codes for city employees or elected officials, according to Tony Green, a spokesman for the Oregon Attorney General’s Office.
“If it was passed after he was elected, then I would have some other questions,” Green said. “It sounds like it is more of a question of the application.”
If the city council was not enforcing the dress code equally among all of its members, then there could be potential violations.
The only exception to any dress code would be for religious purposes, Green said.
“For instance if it is a yarmulke for someone who practices Judaism or a headdress for someone who is Sikh, then it can’t be prohibited,” he said.
City manager Bryan Cosgrove said the complaint was forwarded to city council president Bill Cummins. He said any actions taken against Rasmussen would be solely at the discretion of the city council. The next city council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Aug. 3.