The city of Sacramento’s written policy on sexual harassment has not been significantly updated in at least 10 years. And a link to the policy in the city’s online employee handbook doesn’t work.
Now, after two of his colleagues were accused of sexual harassment in recent months, City Councilman Steve Hansen said he will ask at Tuesday’s council meeting that the City Auditor’s Office review the city’s sexual harassment and workplace safety policies.
Hansen’s request comes as Councilman Allen Warren faces a claim by a former staff aide that he threatened to fire her if she ended their sexual relationship. Warren has denied the claim made July 31 by Delia Chacon.
Mayor Kevin Johnson was the subject of a separate sexual harassment claim in April that the City Attorney’s Office and a third-party law firm determined was unsubstantiated. Johnson also denied the claim made by a former assistant to City Manager John Shirey.
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A third case of alleged workplace mistreatment involves Councilwoman Angelique Ashby. A former staffer in Ashby’s office has a pending federal lawsuit against the councilwoman and the city charging that she was wrongfully denied family and medical leave benefits while her family dealt with health issues caused by toxic mold in their home. The former employee, Sarah Novo, is seeking $300,000 in damages.
With the cases against Warren and Ashby pending, Hansen said he thinks the council members should step down from a City Council ad hoc committee exploring “good government” reforms at City Hall. The committee has met for months behind closed doors but is expected to release its recommendations soon.
City officials have been mostly silent since the claims against Johnson and Warren surfaced. That changed Monday when Hansen told The Sacramento Bee that city officials, “including myself, should have said (before) more strongly that we do not tolerate sexual harassment.”
“The council, in the last few months, by not being more assertive in what our values are, has essentially through our silence not stood up for what’s right,” Hansen said. “We’re the governing body of the city. We have to set a high standard.”
Hansen said he would push for a “safe place to work initiative,” beginning with the city auditor review. He said he wants the auditor to report back to the council within 30 days on recommended changes or updates to the city’s policy. He will then ask Shirey to hire an outside human relations consultant to recommend “policies that reflect model cities and best practices.”
Hansen, an attorney, said his review of the current policy shows it needs to be changed. He said there is no specific policy for handling sexual harassment claims made against elected officials and that the current policy does not require the city attorney to report suspected criminal activity to law enforcement agencies.
“There is a lot left to be desired in terms of its clarity, the ability to find it and to understand how it works,” he said.
The Democratic Party of Sacramento last week called for the creation of an ethics commission in the wake of the accusations against Johnson and Warren.
Ben Sosenko, a spokesman for the mayor, said: “We look forward to reviewing Council Member Hansen’s proposal when he decides to share it with his colleagues on the City Council rather than just the media. We have received no recommendation from the city attorney, which is handling these allegations, to take further action on any of these issues.”
Hansen is seen by many as a political rival of the mayor’s after campaigning to defeat Johnson’s strong-mayor ballot measure last year. Hansen also has feuded with Warren, including this spring over a proposal by Johnson to add more staffing to the mayor’s budget.
Hansen acknowledged “some people will inherently see (his requests) as political, but these issues should not be politicized.”
The City Attorney’s Office is investigating the claim against Warren and is using the outside employment law firm Angelo, Kilday and Kilduff to assist in that inquiry. That firm also reviewed the city’s investigation into the claim against the mayor.
Warren said in a text message that he “will respond to Mr. Hansen’s request (to step down from the ‘good government’ committee), as well as media inquiries, after the independent investigation. I will respect the process and ask others to do the same.”
Ashby said she will not step down from the committee.
“You’re either part of the solution and driving the conversation forward and making change, or you can take shots at the effort trying to improve the city,” Ashby said. “I want to be on the team of people working to make Sacramento great.”
The case against Ashby, who is mayor pro tem, is scheduled to go to trial in federal court in Sacramento early next year.
Novo, Ashby’s former executive assistant, charged in a 2013 lawsuit that she was wrongfully denied Family and Medical Leave Act benefits while working at City Hall. Novo’s lawsuit alleges her family was displaced by toxic mold in their home, a situation that led to serious health issues and forced Novo to miss considerable time at work.
The suit charges that Ashby told Novo in 2012 “it was best to part ways so Ashby could find someone who could give 100 percent.” Novo was terminated and the city later denied her claim for benefits, according to the lawsuit.
City Attorney James Sanchez could not be reached for comment Monday. But Ashby forwarded a statement from Sanchez saying “we remain confident that a judge will view the actions of the city and Pro Tem Ashby as those of a reasonable employer.”