Lin­coln Coun­cil Censures One Of Its Own

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn Kut­ter EN­TER­PRISE-LEADER

— City Coun­cil members cen­sured one of their own in Oc­to­ber, ad­mon­ish­ing coun­cil­man Johnny Stow­ers for dis­re­spect­ful con­duct to­ward city staff. The coun­cil voted 6-1 on Oct. 18 to cen­sure Stow­ers, who rep­re­sents Ward 4, Po­si­tion 2, fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by at­tor­ney Charles Har­well into a com­plaint filed in July by Al Videtto, Lin­coln’s direc­tor of tech­nol­ogy and field en­gi­neer­ing. Videtto’s com­plaint orig­i­nally went to mayor Rob Hulse, who then turned it over to City At­tor­ney Steve Zega to in­ves­ti­gate. Zega re­cused due to a con­flict of in­ter­est, and Har­well was brought in.

Videtto com­plained that Stow­ers of­ten used pro­fane lan­guage when ex­press­ing dis­plea­sure with city staff, spoke dis­parag­ingly of su­per­vi­sors and staff members in front of their co-work­ers and guests and made employees feel ha­rassed.

Har­well’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion found the al­le­ga­tions to be true but that they did not con­sti­tute il­le­gal ha­rass­ment or dis­crim­i­na­tion. The cen­sure ap­proved by the coun­cil said Stow­ers’ ac­tions do not re­flect the of­fi­cial pol­icy of the city of Lin­coln and are not in keep­ing with the spirit or let­ter of of­fi­cial pol­icy of the city.

“The City Coun­cil hereby urges Al­der­man Stow­ers to re­mem­ber that his words and ac­tions, while he is on the City Coun­cil, are not only his own, but are also per­ceived by employees and the pub­lic to rep­re­sent the City,” the cen­sure res­o­lu­tion states. “There­fore, the City Coun­cil fur­ther urges Al­der­man Stow­ers to think be­fore he acts or speaks in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity.”

City Coun­cil members Gary Eoff, Doug Hutchens, Bobby McDon­ald, Doug Moore, Robin Moore and Troy My­ers voted for the cen­sure. Stow­ers voted against it. Coun­cil mem­ber Doyle Dixon was ab­sent.

Stow­ers, who was un­op­posed for an­other two-year term in Novem­ber, last week de­clined to com­ment about the res­o­lu­tion or about the com­plaint filed against him.

Videtto’s Com­plaint

Videtto filed a two-page com­plaint with Mayor Rob Hulse on July 16 about a spe­cific in­ci­dent and re­peated pat­tern with Stow­ers. Videtto stated he be­lieved the is­sue be­ing raised re­quired di­rect in­ter­ven­tion by the mayor.

Videtto wrote that the in­ci­dent oc­curred July 14 out­side Harps in Lin­coln. Videtto said Stow­ers stopped him and asked about a task he had re­quested be done be­fore the next Coun­cil meeting. Videtto said he re­sponded he had not had time to do it yet but that it would be com­pleted be­fore the meeting.

Videtto wrote that Stow­ers then “blurted out loud” to him in pro­fane lan­guage.

Videtto also writes that on pre­vi­ous oc­cas­sions Stow­ers had re­ferred to city employees as “be­ing stupid” and used pro­fane lan­guage in ref­er­ence to city employees.

“While he has the right to be dis­grun­tled, this be­hav­ior in a pub­lic place, along with other is­sues I have wit­nessed, are un­be­com­ing a coun­cil mem­ber,” Videtto said in his com­plaint.

Fear­ing re­tal­i­a­tion for him­self and other city employees, Videtto said he was mak­ing his com­plaint pub­lic and also fil­ing it un­der the “Whistle­blower Pro­tec­tion Act of 1989.”

He said he be­lieves Stow­ers’ ac­tions con­sti­tute a “hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment” for him and other employees who had com­plained to him.

Videtto’s let­ter lists 12 griev­ances on be­half of him­self and other staff members.

Griev­ances in­cluded con­fronta­tion in pub­lic ar­eas, us­ing pro­fane lan­guage and deroga­tory speech about city staff, lack of ci­vil­ity to employees dur­ing Coun­cil meetings, pub­lic at­tacks on employees’ su­per­vi­sors, de­grad­ing com­ments about other employees and be­hav­ior cre­at­ing a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment.

Re­quests made by Videtto were that Stow­ers show re­spect for employees’ per­sonal space, time and be­liefs; stop cor­ner­ing staff to talk ill of su­per­vi­sors, co-work­ers and employees; and stop dis­repect­ful talk to con­tract employees or in front of guests.

Videtto writes that he be­lieves Stow­ers is a valu­able mem­ber of the Coun­cil and that Stow­ers’ com­ments in Coun­cil meetings bring counter-points to light that oth­ers over­looked. Videtto writes that on a per­sonal level he likes Stow­ers.

“It is not with his concern or his civic duty that I have an is­sue, rather with the meth­ods he has em­ployed that make city staff feel ha­rassed,” Videtto said.

In­ves­ti­ga­tion Re­port

In his four-page in­ves­tiga­tive re­port dated Sept. 17 and ad­dressed to Hulse, Har­well said he in­ter­viewed Videtto and four other city employees. He did not name the four employees to pro­tect them from any re­tal­i­a­tion, Har­well stated.

The re­port says that Stow­ers de­clined to be in­ter­viewed dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The re­port found that Stow­ers did not show re­spect for per­sonal bound­aries and con­fronted employees out­side city hall and their work hours; ig­nored the chain of com­mand; was un­nec­es­sar­ily crit­i­cal of city staff; lacked ci­vil­ity and used crude lan­guage not be­fit­ting a pub­lic of­fi­cial both in pri­vate and pub­lic set­tings. The re­port said Stow­ers’ ac­tions could be con­sid­ered cre­at­ing a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment with a concern about re­tal­i­a­tion.

Har­well said he found facts to sup­port a “find­ing of true” for each of the points or con­cerns.

Har­well re­ported that he was es­pe­cially trou­bled by the fact that sev­eral employees in­ter­viewed in­di­cated they were con­cerned about re­tal­i­a­tion if they were to say some­thing to pro­tect them­selves.

“It is un­ac­cept­able if an em­ployee is be­ing ha­rassed and feels pow­er­less to do any­thing about it,” Har­well wrote in the re­port. He said there was a risk if Stow­ers were to con­tinue a pat­tern of be­hav­ior that both he and the city would be re­quired to de­fend a court ac­tion.

Har­well rec­om­mended that Stow­ers not ad­dress city employees ex­cept to exchange greet­ings when there is a chance en­counter and even then, he should “choose his words care­fully and not be seen as us­ing his po­si­tion to make an em­ployee un­com­fort­able, par­tic­u­larly a fe­male.”

Re­port Con­clu­sions

Har­well’s con­clu­sion was that Stow­ers should limit his con­tact with city employees and should ob­tain any in­for­ma­tion he needs as a City Coun­cil mem­ber by work­ing through the chain of com­mand.

He also said Stow­ers should ad­dress is­sues and avoid the in­stinct to at­tack in­di­vid­u­als, seek to be civil as a pub­lic ser­vant, watch his lan­guage and elim­i­nate the pub­lic use of ex­ple­tives.

The re­port states that Stow­ers could be cen­sured by the Coun­cil for each of the con­cerns. But it also notes that there is no le­gal rem­edy to force a change in be­hav­ior.

“It is nev­er­the­less im­por­tant that he un­der­stand that in­ap­pro­pri­ate lan­guage is not per­sua­sive,” Har­well writes in the re­port. “There are sim­ply bet­ter ways to com­mu­ni­cate concern or dis­sat­is­fac­tion as to any as­pect of city busi­ness.”

Hulse last week said it was un­for­tu­nate any con­cerns had got­ten to the point of a writ­ten com­plaint and in­ves­ti­ga­tion. When Videtto sub­mit­ted his com­plaint, Hulse said he turned ev­ery­thing over to the city at­tor­ney.

“As mayor, I ex­pect all elected of­fi­cials to treat all staff, as well as the pub­lic, with the re­spect, cour­tesy and pro­fes­sion­al­ism they de­serve,” Hulse said. “I’m hop­ing that through the course of my 12 years as mayor and eight years on the Coun­cil that I’ve laid that foun­da­tion which will con­tinue to be built upon even af­ter Jan. 1.”

He praised the city’s staff, say­ing they do a great job and work hard.

“We owe them a debt of grat­i­tude for ev­ery­thing they do,” Hulse said.

Stow­ers

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