With an agenda chock full of contentious issues, Tuesday night’s council meeting kicked off with a warning from LaFollette Mayor Mike Stanfield.
“We’ve got a lot on the agenda and I’ll have no outbursts from the council or the audience or you’ll be escorted out by the police,” Stanfield said. There were four uniformed officers and the chief of police standing by just in case Stanfield needed to make good on that promise.
The agenda was quickly shortened when Councilman Joe Bolinger asked that the issue regarding the city administrator’s contract and the issue regarding moving the library to West LaFollette School be put off until a later date.
All council members agreed, leaving City Recorder Linda White’s grievance against City Administrator David Young the main topic at hand.
A tribunal was then held to discuss the four allegations of sexual harassment White filed against Young earlier this year.
Both Young and White were given the chance to make statements regarding the allegations and have witnesses questioned on their behalf. Fireman Ernie Hill, who investigated the matter at the request of Fire Chief Gary Byrd was also present.
But the questioning of witnesses was not limited to the respective sides, council members were also given the chance to ask questions of Young, White and the witnesses appearing on their behalf.
White began by tearfully apologizing to the council and city employees for their being dragged into the middle of the issue.
Audience member Katie Goins let a small chuckle escape at the same time White made her statement. Stanfield pointed his finger and warned her, (Goins) about the alleged outburst.
When Goins denied the outburst, Stanfield ordered the police to escort her out of the room.
One of the allegations aired was that Young had allegedly made an inappropriate comment regarding White and an A&S Steele employee. Young disputed using White’s name during the conversation. Young stated that all he had said to Public Works Director Jim Mullens was that he knew someone who was “running around” with someone high up at A&S Steel.
Mullens told the council that while Young did make a similar statement, he couldn’t remember if White was present when he allegedly made the remark.
“He (Young) made the statement ‘What if I know someone sleeping with someone high up at A&S Steel,’ and I replied, it’s immaterial to me,” Mullens said.
Another allegation was that Young had allegedly shown White an inappropriate picture on the computer with inappropriate language.
“It did not happen; I did not show anyone a picture of an obscene nature,” Young flatly refuted.
During the tribunal Young brought up an allegation White had levied that he appeared to take great offense to. White complained Young had allegedly spoke of a woman he previously worked with using foul language. This was not true, he said adding the woman in question had befriended him when his wife was ill. There was nothing more to the relationship, he said.
Several city employees were called as witnesses and confirmed some of the sexual harassment allegations, stating that they heard Young speak inappropriately about a Press employee and a LaFollette Police Officer, while others were refuted; Young denied all allegations.
Issues raised by White regarding the fear Young instilled in her about her safety were not addressed. City Attorney Reid Troutman told the packed council chambers those allegations had not been presented in the proper format.
But after both Young and his lawyer David Dunaway and Linda White had their say, councilmember’s were still unable to come to an official decision.
“This council doesn’t have enough evidence; things have to be investigated,” Fannon said.
Councilman Hansford Hatmaker felt the issue to be much more cut and dried.
“I’ve read Linda’s statement and I believe it to be true. These people (witnesses) would not have made these statements if they were not true,” Hatmaker said of the alleged sexual allegations.
Dunaway pointed out that if White had really wanted these allegations addressed in the proper way, then she would have followed the city’s personnel policy and approached Young with the problem, rather than writing a memorandum to the council. Young said he was unaware of the memo making the allegations until he picked up a copy of it at a local restaurant.
Dunaway explained to the council that another proper step in handling the situation would have been to take the grievance to the Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC) where an investigator would have been assigned to the issue and probably even and attorney.
An open forum at a public meeting was not the proper way to address the issue, according to the city’s own personnel policy, Dunaway told the council.
“Ask yourself who orchestrated this forum,” Dunaway asked the five men at the council table.
“I can’t fix something I know nothing about,” Young said. He said he felt that not only were they trying to take his job, but destroy his life.
White maintained she felt unsafe in her work atmosphere because of Young and that all allegations were true.
“I think that there are some facts that have been witnessed, but I also think we need to gather more facts,” Bolinger said. He then made the motion to suspend Young with pay until further notice. Hatmaker seconded the motion. The investigation into the allegations will continue while Young is suspended. Fannon asked Bolinger how he proposed to finish the investigation.
“Well, by his own attorney’s suggestion the EEOC could investigate,” Bolinger answered.
“They may already be on their way,” Stanfield added.
Troutman interjected saying once a complaint was made the council needed to make a decision in regards to the complaint.
Fannon made the statement that he felt White had a problem with many of the past city administrators and had never been satisfied with any of them.
“Who’s going to run the city with David suspended,” Fannon asked.
Bolinger amended his motion so that former City Administrator Terry Sweat could act as administrator in Young’s absence. Fannon and Councilman Wayne Kitts both voted no, leaving the mayor to break the tie.
The meeting was quickly adjourned. Stanfield stated that the council would talk about it more at the next workshop.