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Council Approves Policy To Deter Harassment At City Hall

city hall
city Hall

The Louisville Metro Council now has an anti-harassment policy.

The city's legislative body has been without such a policy to guide the reporting and investigation of harassment issues since its formation in 2003, following the merger of the former city and Jefferson County governments.

And the need for such a policy has been highlighted in recent weeks amidsexual harassment allegations against Metro Councilman Dan Johnson.

The full council voted unanimously to adopt the policy by approving a pair of measures Thursday night during the body's regular meeting.

Councilwoman Jessica Green, a Democrat and lead sponsor of the legislation, applauded the council's effort to adopt anti-harassment policies.

"I feel like they are good pieces of legislation, they are well thought out," she said.

Republican Councilwoman Angela Leet also assisted in the formation of the policy.

"We should never feel unsafe in our work environment and I feel like these two pieces of legislation move us closer to that," she said.

The new policy provides protections from "verbal or physical abuse, harassment, intimidation, threats, violence or other adverse behavior," according to the resolution approved Thursday.

The policy affords Metro Council members, their staff and other employees of the legislative body multiple mechanisms for reporting such harassment incidents - including via direct communication with supervisors, a third party investigator or through the city's anonymous tip line. The policy also provides interim interventions such as separation of work spaces between the complainant and alleged harasser or suspension of the alleged harasser, according to the measure.

The investigation process includes a review by a "third party"—to be completed within 30 days of a sworn complaint—and culminates with a prepared written report presented to the council's Committee on Committees. The third party investigator will also provide regular, monthly reports to the council regarding any pending investigations into alleged harassment.

If the investigation yields sufficient evidence suggestive of harassment the council committee can issue a written reprimand, suspend, demote or terminate a council employee or initiate formal removal proceedings for a sitting council member, under the measure.

In establishing the anti-harassment policy, the council members also approved an ordinance that amends the city's existing anonymous tip line to provide an avenue for the reporting of harassment by council members.

The tip line is monitored by the city's office of Internal Audit and monthly reports are published regularly online.

Councilman Johnson was accused earlier this year of groping his Democratic colleague, councilwoman Jessica Green, as the two huddled for a photograph during a press conference.

Council leaders issued an ultimatum to Johnson earlier this month, requesting he resign from the council or face formal removal proceedings.

Bill Hollander, the head of the Democratic caucus, said Johnson’s actions are “inconsistent with the standards of conduct that we should expect of any public official and any member of the Metro Council.”

If Johnson fails to resign on his own by the August 1 deadline presented to him earlier this month, Hollander said the council's Democratic caucus will move forward with formal efforts to remove Johnson.

To do so, at least five Metro Council members must form a “charging committee” to levy charges against Johnson. Both the committee and Johnson are afforded the option to acquire legal representation and the matter could, eventually, go to trial in Circuit Court.

“It’s an expensive process, it’s a time consuming process,” Hollander said. “It’s a process we very much hope we can avoid.”

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.