Sacramento’s Democratic Party leadership is calling for the creation of an ethics commission with enforcement powers following two sexual harassment complaints made against elected officials at City Hall.
At the same time, the party expressed frustration with a City Council-appointed committee that has been meeting behind closed doors for months exploring potential “good government” measures, including an ethics commission and an independent commission that would draw City Council district boundaries. That committee has not released any findings yet and is expected to continue meeting into the fall.
A former staff aide to Councilman Allen Warren filed a sexual harassment claim against Warren on Friday, alleging he threatened to fire her if she stopped their sexual relationship. The claim also charged that Warren requested that the staff member – Delia Chacon – and other city employees work on business for his private development firm, New Faze, during normal city business hours.
Warren has declined to comment on the claim. He is the chairman of the City Council good government committee.
The claim against Warren was filed three months after another City Hall staff member accused Mayor Kevin Johnson of sexual harassment. Johnson denied the claim and a city investigation determined the accusations were unfounded.
Wendy Klock-Johnson, a city of Sacramento spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the city attorney’s office is conducting an investigation into the claim against Warren. She said the city has also engaged the outside employment law firm Angelo, Kilday and Kilduff to assist in that investigation. That firm was paid $195 an hour to review the city’s investigation into the claim against the mayor. It determined the accusation was unsubstantiated.
The Democratic Party is joining other community groups in pushing for ethics reform at City Hall. But the party also has a political feud with Johnson that dates back more than a decade, to when his nonprofit group turned Sacramento High School into a charter school. The organization did not endorse Johnson, a Democrat, in either of his mayoral campaigns, and it was a vocal opponent of Johnson’s strong-mayor measure on last year’s ballot. The party also endorsed Warren’s opponent when he was first elected to the City Council in 2012.
“The latest allegations of sexual harassment and misuse of public funds by a member of the Sacramento City Council demonstrates a disturbing and disgusting pattern to abuse power and people hired to serve the public,” Kerri Asbury, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County, said in a written statement. “While the council member in this latest incident is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the complaint details a shocking work environment that no person should be forced to tolerate.”
Asbury also took aim at Johnson’s well-publicized use of staff aides in his effort to gain control of the National Conference of Black Mayors, calling it an attempt to “promote his personal brand and ego” and “a slap in the face of every taxpayer in this city.”
“Enough is enough,” Asbury wrote. “These allegations need to be independently investigated, outside of the political influence of the City Council or the City Manager’s Office. The Sacramento City Council needs to immediately establish an independent ethics commission, with enforcement authority to address complaints of wrongdoing by the mayor and City Council.”
Local watchdog group Eye on Sacramento, the League of Women Voters and other community organizations have held a series of forums in recent months as they explore crafting their own ethics reform package. The groups say they’re hopeful the City Council will agree to adopt their recommendations, but have said they could go to the ballot with their proposal if the council doesn’t go far enough.
Councilman Jay Schenirer, who serves on the council committee, said the group has “talked a lot about an ethics code and strengthening that.” However, he said, the committee wants to meet with Eye on Sacramento and the League of Women Voters “to let those guys make a case” before settling on a plan.
“They’ve done a lot of work,” he said. “We want them to come meet with us and talk about their ideas so we can formulate something together that we bring to the council as a whole.”