By Bob Seidenberg
Evanston elected officials could be subject to official misconduct charges for inappropriate behavior under a recommendation from the City Council’s Rules Committee Aug. 1 that will be moved to the full Council for action.
Former Second Ward Alderperson Peter Braithwaite made the referral in March, proposing amendments to the City’s Code of Ethics to require elected officials to abide by the city’s anti-harassment policies.
Braithwaite’s referral came after a Feb. 22 encounter between First Ward Council member Clare Kelly and then interim City Manager, Kelley Gandurski, when the Council member went to city offices to obtain a document, in an incident the RoundTable later reported on.
After the encounter, Gandurski complained in an email to Council members that the Council member swore at her and yelled at her in front of staff.
Kelly maintained in an interview that she was calm in her request and that no profanity was used in a conversation she estimated took 90 seconds. She maintained that the real issue was transparency, and staff failure to turn over a document that she was entitled to.
Braithwaite said in light of that situation, the Council “would all be hypocrites if we do not apply the same standards, expectations we have for staff,” referring to alderpersons also being subject to official misconduct findings.
His referral called for amendments to the City’s Code of Ethics to include the city’s Anti-Harassment Policies for all “covered persons,” Council members included.
Kelly adds protection for residents
At the June 6 Rules Committee meeting, Council member Kelly, 1st Ward, proposed an additional amendment to Braithwaite’s proposal, which extended protection to residents from harassment as well.
“That seems obvious, but I just want to make sure we add that also,” she said at that meeting. “Anybody employed by the city – an official, or a contractor – we hold this bar also in their treatment of our residents.”
Prohibited harassment may include the following:
— “Verbal conduct, including taunting, jokes, threats, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs based on an individual’s protected status;
— Visual and/or written conduct, including derogatory posters, photographs, calendars, cartoons, drawings, websites, emails, text messages or gestures based on an individual’s protected status;
— Physical conduct related to an individual’s protected status, including but not limited to assault, unwanted touching or blocking normal movement;
— Exercises [in] authority to intimidate or coerce a Covered Person or City resident such that the behavior creates a hostile environment.”
In a memo at the Aug. 1 meeting, Derke Price, the City’s Interim Corporation Counsel, observed , “currently the Code of Ethics does not expressly require covered persons, including elected officials, to abide by the City’s Anti-Harassment Policies.
“Recently, the City’s Personnel Manual was amended to include a more robust Anti-Harassment Policy in favor of the previously more subjective Healthy Work Environment Policy. Ordinance 51-O-22 incorporates this Anti- Harassment policy. This will ensure that not only can the City’s employees, applicants, interns, vendors, contractors, subcontractors, and consultants be held accountable for prohibited acts that create a hostile work environment, but also the City’s elected and appointed officials [i.e., members of Boards, Commissions, and Committees] may be held accountable as well.”
Persons found in violation of a provision city’s Code of Ethics can be fined anywhere from $100 to $750 per offense.
By Bob Seidenberg