Conduct inquiry reveals misdeeds
By Jessica A. York
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SANTA CRUZ >> Results of an $18,000 conduct investigation revealed Wednesday showed partial wrongdoing by two City Council members.
Councilmen Chris Krohn, elected in 2016, and Drew Glover, elected in 2018, were subjects of the five-month review. Both men also are the focus of an ongoing city recall petition effort. Among complaints made by five separate people were those of Mayor Martine Watkins, who publicly castigated the two men for alleged sexism and bullying during a February council meeting. Councilwoman Donna Meyers and three city employees also lodged conduct complaints. Of six separate complaints made against Glover and four against Krohn, just one, under the city’s Respectful Workplace Conduct Policy, was substantiated against each.
The initial complaint that prompted the city’s conduct investigation, Watkins’ allegations of gender-related bullying, was among those claims considered “not substantiated,” meaning the investigation failed to disclose enough evidence to either prove or disprove the allegation. None of the complaints, however, were considered “unfounded,” or false.
“On Feb. 12 in an open statement, I did address the section that I felt needed to be spoken about and I stand by that statement and I stand by the four additional women that came after I made my statement,” Watkins said Thursday in response to the investigation’s findings. “The interpretation of the investigator I of course respect.”
Staff-council tensions appeared to escalate further Thursday, made apparent when an internal email by City Manager Martín Bernal issued to all city employees was leaked and shared widely on social media. Bernal directed city workers to communicate with Glover only via himself, the assistant city manager or department heads. City spokesman Ralph Dimarucut confirmed the veracity of the memo and said it related to an incident that occurred earlier that morning.
Asked about the incident, Glover said he was unaware of the city manager’s email, but had talked with Bernal earlier about “the training of staff and being able to deal with hard conversations.”
Joe Rose of the Sacramento- based Rose Law, APC was hired to conduct a council conduct independent investigation in March and submitted his report for review to the city in late July. City Human Resources Director Lisa Murphy later ruled that there was sufficient evidence to substantiate Rose’s assessment that both Krohn and Glover had violated the city’s seven-page Santa Cruz Respectful Workplace Conduct Policy.
The substantiated complaint against Krohn was made by an unnamed city worker, who claimed Krohn “was disrespectful when he interrupted her with an audible sarcastic laugh deriding the value of her professional opinion” during a Feb. 12 council meeting presentation. Rose’s report found a “significant power imbalance” between Krohn and the employee in this instance.
“Although I don’t recall the incident, I need to trust that the staff person and my colleague on the Council are not making this up. So, I am assuming that I did utter a sound that sounded to the staff person as disrespectful,” Krohn wrote in a press release responding to the report Thursday. “I apologize.”
For Glover, the complaint substantiated was one made by Meyers, related to his Feb. 1 confrontation of her about shared conference room scheduling. Rose’s report found that Glover was “needlessly and unjustifiably antagonistic” to Meyers over the “minor issue of her innocently overstaying her scheduled time by a few minutes ….” The report, found, however, that the instance occurred weeks before city staff provided Glover with a copy of the respectful workplace policy. Glover said Thursday that he appreciated the existence of city policies designed as tools to protect people in negative work environments. He also said he had guessed that allegations of gender discrimination and intentional harassment would be debunked, as occurred, but disagreed with the substantiated claim. Glover said he does not believe Meyers’ description of the two council members’ interaction “adequately encapsulates the full relationship between Council member Meyers and I.”
“I thought it was unfortunate that people felt that they had to take this route, but I think it speaks to the larger issue of the way that conflict is dealt with in the city,” Glover said of formal complaints filed against him. “I’ve noticed a pattern, where it’s difficult for people to have difficult conversations.”
Meyers, reached by phone for comment Thursday, declined to comment for this article.
Glover added that reports described him as being “short or terse” with Meyers, behavior he considers not to be egregious. He said he should, however, have had a conversation with Meyers about his concerns in private, rather than in front of community members.
Despite the outcome of the investigation, the city’s management team ultimately has no legal authority to impose discipline on council members for any city policy violations. Watkins said the recommendations were not part of Tuesday’s upcoming council meeting, but may appear on a future agenda.
Murphy backed a series of investigator-backed recommendations, including having council members undergo policy training, professional mediation and conflict resolution — the last which would incur additional costs for the city. Other recommendations involve having city staff review its post-election onboarding process for new council members, while urging council members to attempt to address conduct concerns among themselves before making public accusations and to avoid using photographs of city employees in presentations until they have reviewed them with the city manager’s office.
Glover said he supported all council members following through with the recommendations, steps he said he had pushed for prior to and during the investigation. Krohn said he also supported the investigator’s next-step recommendations, highlighting professional mediation and conflict resolution for the council and select city staff.
Murphy said that though several complaints were not substantiated, she urged all council members to conduct themselves “with the highest form of civility” in their dealings with city employees and the public. Murphy urged the council to form a subcommittee to put together a code of ethics policy for the larger body. She went on to expand on the recommendations, writing: Contact reporter Jessica A. York at 831-706-3264.