Sexual harassment probe

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Charlotte city council votes to hire an outside party to investigate possible sexual harassment by one of its own.

Three big questions that need to be answered:  What will that investigation look like?  Who benefits from it?  And, if there was misconduct, who punishes the perpetrator?

this investigation has really turned from a "who done it?" to a "how do we fix it?"  And there's a lot of disagreement on that.

The city has a stated policy on how it deals with sexual harassment for city workers who fall under the authority of the city manager.

But since city council members aren't under the manager's authority and in fact they are the manager's boss there's nothing to deal with something like this.  It's made a dicey situation even dicer.

Said council member Andy Dulin, "I don't think we need a sexual harassment thing.. because dad burn it we're supposed to act like gentlemen and ladies down here.. I thought that was the way its supposed to be."

But Dulin and three others were voted down.  A majority on council asking for an outside investigator to look into what allegedly happened between council member Warren Turner and a female staffer.

The neutral third part will be tasked with gathering the facts.. interviewing both sides.  And determining whether what may or may not have happened rises to the level of sexual harassment.

But then it gets more complicated.  City council would then have to decide what to do about it.

Councilman Michael Barnes said, "We haven't gone that far. I don't know where we would go with it."

If the allegations hold up, how would Turner be punished?  There's no precedent set.

Ten years ago, the city council adopted a policy it calls "A Guidelines of Operation."  It says "At all times the Mayor, City Council members and city staff will address and treat each other with respect, civility, courtesy and professionalism."

But it doesn't specifically address sexual harassment nor what would happen.

Nancy Carter chaired the committee that came up with the policy in 2000.  She said, "I think the process that we develop needs to be appended and incorporated in that booklet.. so we have a good overall statement."

Any possible punishment would have to be decided on by council members since they don't answer to anyone at city hall.  The answer to the voters.

"Hope whatever we do we develop some type of agreed upon process for dealing with these issues in the future," said Mayor Anthony Foxx.

At least one council member Patrick Cannon has already come up with a policy he would like to see adopted.

It calls for the guilty party, depending on the severity, to be either disciplined or be formally removed from city council.

One local group, The Employers Association is offering its assistance to the city as the third party investigator.  The Charlotte-based non-profit has extensive experience helping companies deal with human resources issues like sexual harassment.

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