All eyes are pointed directly at the Charlotte City Council, which — as of press time — was scheduled to release the findings of its much-discussed sexual harassment investigation on Monday, April 26.
According to reports published by The Charlotte Observer, Councilman Warren Turner is alleged to have sexually harassed a female member of the city staff. The allegations surfaced after Mayor Anthony Foxx sent an e-mail to Council members admonishing anyone who may commit acts of harassment. While the female staffer did not make a formal complaint, she did inform human resources of her concerns. The Council voted to hire outside counsel to perform an investigation into the complaint. But it may not make a difference -- since City Council members are exempt from Charlotte's policies against sexual harassment. Suffice to say, this is a major problem.
Whether it is found that Turner sexually harassed the female staffer or not, the fact that sexual harassment policies do not apply to City Council members is worrisome at best and utterly ridiculous at worst.
Sexual harassment policies not only protect victims, but also supervisors. They exist to keep those in power from wielding said power against subordinates, peers and the like. The fact that the City Council does not have a policy in place, when members interact with city officials and staff on a constant basis, is asinine. Foxx has said that he plans to close this "loophole," but it is interesting that it even exists. (Historically, City Council members are supposed to be leaders in our community. One could hope that there has never been any sexual harassment going on between the City Council and city staff before now. Hope springs eternal, so who knows if that is true.) One could argue that this loophole persists to give those in power the wiggle room to mistreat workers at will without fear of retaliation or repercussion. Although I am clearly a cynic, I would hope that this is not the case, although it is looking eerily like it.
Some folks have the nerve to be pissed that Foxx would send an e-mail to Council members, telling them to not sexually harass workers; I'm pissed that anyone would think that he shouldn't send out a statement like that. Obviously it needs to be said and because there is no official policy in place, people need to be warned. As CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman said in reference to disclosing salaries and bonuses to CMS staff, "Transparency is our best defense." Transparency is Foxx's best defense in not being pulled into some alleged foolishness started by another official's alleged bad behavior.
Foxx should take the lead in fixing this loophole and sending a clear message to the Council and all Charlotteans that sexual harassment will not be tolerated by anyone, including him. His next step is to put a sexual harassment policy in place -- stat. The fact that people are more concerned about this information getting out and less concerned about the fact that we don't have a sexual harassment policy in place for City Council members speaks volumes.
It is terrible that Turner is being judged publicly for something that may or may not have happened. Had there been a sexual harassment policy in place, this would probably not have happened. Unfortunately, he is being made an example of because of the failure of those before him -- and Foxx -- to put the appropriate guidelines in effect to protect everyone. If there was a policy on the books, perhaps Turner wouldn't be in this position and City Council wouldn't be looking crazy for lacking regulations that should have been mandated decades ago. I mean really, is this 1910 or 2010?
Who cares that the e-mail got out? It's out and now everyone knows that there is a problem. Should we be focused on fixing this lapse in judgment or focused on the fact that people know that trouble is brewing?
I vote for having a policy in place. It is the only way to protect Council members, city staff and officials from those in power who would dare use it in a way to harass, humiliate or retaliate against someone. If it is found that Turner has been wronged, he can then use his experience as a reason to ensure that a sexual harassment policy is put in place so that everyone knows the rules and the consequences of being accused or falsely accusing.
As it stands, nobody is protected and everyone is screwed because of it, pun intended.
I'm stepping off of the soapbox now, but I hope that regardless of how this incident turns out, Charlotte's City Council will step into the 21st century.