CLARIFICATION: The city administration cannot file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as stated in a previous version of this column. Also, any complaint filed with the EEOC would be against the city, not a specific person, though it’s presumed an investigation by the EEOC would focus on the actions as to why a complaint was filed.
Also, the previous version read, citing comments by the administration and some council members, said “the ordinance is needed because the city has no recourse for this type of behavior.” The word “city” was meant as a catchall word for anyone affiliated with the city. For clarity, the word “employees” is used here.
The column follows:
Finally, we’re getting somewhere.
At Nov. 19’s Bellevue City Council meeting, Councilman Paul Cook spilled the beans on why the city is moving forward with a misconduct ordinance that includes the extreme measure of the potential to remove a council person by the rest of the council.
Cook revealed details of alleged past behavior of one of his peers on the council, and they are appalling:
~ An elected official said to another elected official, “I should backhand you simply because you disagree.”
~ Made a comment to a city employee, “I will put my effing foot in your effing a--.”
~ Commented on the weight of a female city employee, saying “most of their weight hangs to their knees.”
~ Used vulgar language to describe a female employee’s attire and made sexual innuendos.
~ Made the comment to a female employee, “You should watch out, I just had my testosterone shot.”
~ Made a sexual innuendo referring to a city employee blowing out candles on a birthday cake.
Cook mentioned no one by name, so in that sense we’re left to wonder which fellow councilman is responsible for these actions.
There are so many questions revolving around Cook’s bombshell and the proposed ordinance that it makes one’s head spin – not the least of which is who should be responsible for removing an elected official from office? Is it the voting public or five people sitting in a council chamber?
The answer is simple. Elected officials are what the term states – elected.
City council members are not employed by the city. They are not beholden to a mayor or administration. They answer to those who cast ballots on an election day, and it’s that electorate that has a right to decide who stays and who goes.
It’s a cut and dry answer.
Cook’s disclosure, however, gives some insight to why the administration wants to move in this direction, but it also raises a whole lot of questions about what is going on at City Hall.
Councilwoman Kathy Welch stated at a previous council meeting she was a victim of sexual harassment by the offending councilman, and now Cook’s statement of other alleged incidents supports her claim.
Mayor Rusty Hike, City Administrator Jim Ristow, City Attorney Bree Robbins and some council members have said the ordinance is needed because there is no recourse for this type of behavior.
That isn’t true, at least for staff and employees in the matters of alleged sexual harassment.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It goes on to say the harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker or a non-employee.
Certainly, a councilman harassing a city employee meets that definition of a harasser.
This information then begs the question, has an employee or Welch filed an EEOC complaint? Does the city have a sexual harassment policy, and has the City Attorney’s office advised Welch or any employee of their rights to file a complaint?
City Attorney Bree Robbins said she’s not aware of any complaints filed with the EEOC, nor is she aware if the EEOC complaint process has been addressed with any employee.
The city’s employee handbook addresses workplace bullying and a harassment-free workplace, which includes sexual harassment, including complaint and investigation procedures.
Robbins said two employees “for sure” have reported incidents to the administration, and letters were sent to a council member regarding inappropriate comments.
So it’s clear the administration isn’t sitting idle on the matter.
But as distasteful as the comments the councilman is reported to have made, were any of them criminal – other than possible violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
If not, this entire discussion boils down to behavior and governing that behavior. Therein lies the deepest flaw in the proposed ordinance – how do you legislate behavior?
Just because a council person is a cad, does that give his or her peers the right to remove that person from office?
Bellevue, over the years and like many other government agencies, has seen its share of cads and louses – for varying reasons – sit as an elected official, but never has an administration seen fit to introduce an ordinance that allows for the offending party’s removal from office.
The vagueness of the proposed ordinance begins and ends with the city’s Principles of Conduct and Decorum that is the jumping off point for the removal of an elected official.
What exactly is vulgar and disparaging language and who determines either?
If council person A calls council person B a horse’s ass, is that disparaging?
What about a council person who spends too much time with his buddies Jim Beam and Jack Daniels and tends to speak out of turn at the local watering hole? Misconduct?
What about this and what about that? The scenarios are endless.
The city leaves itself plenty of wiggle room and can pick and choose how and when it enforces the proposed ordinance with this wording throughout its Principles of Conduct and Decorum, “Any such violation may be considered misconduct . . . ”
Is a city administrator and council more likely to look the other way when the alleged violator is a friend?
Enacting legislation for a specific problem to deal with a specific person is not good government. Establishing an ordinance that could be abused by future councils is not good government.
If a council wants to censure one of its own, by all means do so. It doesn’t need an ordinance to do so.
The proposed ordinance is not good for Bellevue and it should be voted down at the Dec. 3 meeting.