With new sexual harassment claims coming to light nationally on a sometimes-daily basis, the City of Prescott has taken note.
During the orientation of newly seated City Council members on Tuesday, Dec. 12, City Attorney Jon Paladini conducted a tutorial on how to prevent harassment from taking place.
“It is particularly important to talk about this in the environment we’re in today,” Paladini told the council, referring to high-profile allegations that have led to the recent resignations/firings of, among others, a U.S. Senator and Representative, a Hollywood mogul, and a number of TV and movie stars.
The council orientation comes after an extensive program for employees this past fall, during which every city worker was required to participate in training on how to prevent harassment.
“Our plan is to do it every year,” Paladini said of the employee training. The council training occurs every two years after new council members are sworn in.
Along with helping to ensure productivity among the city’s employees, Paladini said the training would reduce the city’s liability for future claims.
“Given the environment, there are going to be very few secrets,” Paladini said, noting that the move toward bringing allegations to the forefront likely would continue.
Paladini cautioned against “unwelcome conduct” based on race, color, sex, national origin, age, disability, or sexual orientation. He also warned against “quid pro quo” situations, in which a person of power expects actions — usually of a sexual nature — from an employee or subordinate.
When harassment allegations are made, Paladini said the city has a number of tools, including “anything from training to termination.”
Councilman Jim Lamerson pointed out that the city has dealt with two cases in recent years in which the state attorney general’s office got involved.
“This applies not just to staff, but to council members too,” Lamerson said.
One of the prominent cases, dating back to 2010, began with a claim of a hostile work environment by Dawn Castaneda, then the manager of the city-owned Elks Opera House. The case ultimately led to criminal charges against Castaneda, and later, a civil lawsuit by local resident KayAnne Riley alleging bullying tactics and First Amendment violations by then-Mayor Marlin Kuykendall.
The city defended against the claims that Kuykendall’s interference had led to Riley’s firing from the Yavapai Humane Society. The matter played out in the court system over six years, costing the city as much as $250,000. The case was finally decided in December 2016 with a verdict for the city and Kuykendall.
Lamerson said after the Tuesday council meeting that Kuykendall “was vindicated” in the lawsuit.
Still, he said, “The council needs to understand that 24/7/365, they’re under scrutiny.”
Paladini, who noted that the 2010 claims of a hostile work environment predated his arrival on the job in early 2013, said the city has consistently taken steps to avoid such allegations.
“We aren’t really doing anything different,” he said after the meeting. “We’ve always taken it seriously. We have basically zero tolerance.”
Melissa Fousek from the city human resources department stressed that the City Council can “lead by example” in the matter. She urged the council members to act if they do hear of an accusation of harassment.
Paladini concluded by noting that the training was an attempt “to protect the organization and keep things moving forward, because these kinds of things can really affect the productivity and affect moving forward.”
Oftentimes, he said, “These kinds of things, if it is a pervasive problem, it takes a lot of resources.”
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