The Phoenix City Council adopted a new anti-harassment policy this week. Voters will decide whether to amend the city charter to give members the power to remove their colleagues.
The Phoenix City Council adopted a new anti-harassment policy this week. Voters will decide whether to amend the city charter to give members the power to remove their colleagues.

Phoenix City Council Joins #MeToo, Adopts Anti-Harassment Policy

During the next city election, Phoenix voters will decide whether to empower City Council members to remove their colleagues from office following a harassment investigation. It’s the result of new anti-harassment language adopted by the City Council this week.

Because granting council members the power to remove a colleague requires amending Phoenix's charter, voters have to approve it. If they do, a supermajority vote by three-fourths of the City Council will expel an elected official for violating the anti-harassment policy.

Councilwoman Kate Gallego helped the new policy move swiftly through an initial research phase by city staff in December. The measure was approved unanimously at the Council's policy session on Tuesday.

“I think it shows how seriously the city took this,” Gallego said at the meeting.

The measure will be on the ballot during the special mayoral election that will take place in either August or November, depending on when Mayor Greg Stanton resigns.

Gallego worked closely with Councilman Jim Waring to develop the measure and city staff examined anti-harassment policies in other cities, as well as in the private sector at companies like Arizona Public Service.

“This council really challenged our staff to look at best practices, not only across elected officials but also across the business community,” Gallego said.

The idea was to be ahead of the national conversation, Gallego said. She added that they’ve already heard from a city councilman in Cincinnati who wants advice from Phoenix on adopting a similar policy.

Almost all of the cities that the Council’s staff researched have provisions to remove their elected officials for harassment — these include San Diego, Tempe, and Mesa.

The new policy at the City Council follows a nationwide discussion of sexual harassment as a part of the #MeToo movement, which also made its way to the halls of the Arizona Legislature.

The state House voted to expel serial sexual harasser Don Shooter from the legislature on February 1. And a scandal rocked the race for Arizona’s Congressional District 8 when State Senator Steve Montenegro was alleged to have “groomed” a female legislative staffer for a sexual relationship via text messages, which her attorney released last week. Montenegro lost to Debbie Lesko in the Republican primary election on Tuesday.

In response, the legislature is reworking its own policies. This week, the House and Senate leaders announced that a bipartisan panel will craft a behavioral code of conduct for lawmakers.

Additionally, the Arizona Department of Administration announced in December that all state employees will be required to take an annual workplace harassment prevention training.

Under the City Council's new policy, anyone who is the victim of harassment or discrimination — the policy covers both — by an elected official, board member, or volunteer can file a confidential complaint with the City Clerk's office.

Council members, with the exception of any members named in the complaint, will then evaluate the complaint and can assign it to an outside law firm for an investigation and final report. There is no deadline to make a claim.

The language of Phoenix City Council's harassment policy also includes a non-retaliation provision. The policy reads as follows:

When acting in the course and scope of their duties during their term of office, City of Phoenix elected officials, board members, and volunteers must not by words or conduct harass or discriminate against any person based on the person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, martial status, gender, gender identity or expression, or disability. In addition, City of Phoenix elected officials, board members, and volunteers must not retaliate against any person who makes a complaint of discrimination or participates in the investigation of a complaint.

Interesting to note is that the council decided the policy should only cover an elected official's behavior "when acting in the course or scope of their duties during their term of office."

Dan Brown of the city's law department said that they considered the scope of conduct to which the policy might apply, and whether it should encompass all conduct, not just official duties. Ultimately, the Sustainability, Housing, Efficiency and Neighborhoods Subcommittee recommended that the policy should only cover elected officials' conduct in their duties.

Even so, the council did amend the city's ethics code to require city officials to "comply with all applicable laws" in their general conduct — a small step to ensure that a harasser's behavior could lead to expulsion, even if the behavior didn't happen in the course of their public duties.

Aside from removal, council members could hit elected officials and board members with other sanctions, including censure or civil fines up to $2,500 per violation of the anti-harassment policy.

Jodi Liggett, chair of the Phoenix Women’s Commission, praised the new policy at the meeting. She described it as "long overdue."

“Despite all your options, what we’re talking about today is very simple: that the rights of a victim should not vary on the basis of who the perpetrator is,"  Liggett said.

Like Liggett, Councilman Daniel Valenzuela praised Gallego and Waring, saying that it was about time that the Council adopted the measure. Valenzuela said at the policy session, "It’s 2018 — it’s pretty amazing that we didn’t have something like this in place."

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