An “anti-harassment, anti-discrimination, anti-intimidation policy” that would apply to elected officials and appointed members of boards, and commissions is under consideration by the Havre de Grace City Council.
During its most recent meeting July 2, the council approved Resolution 2018-13, which sets out the new policy, including definitions and reporting procedures.
Council members also voted to introduce Ordinance 1008, which if approved, would update the city’s ethics code to include the new policy.
A public hearing on Ordinance 1008 is scheduled for Monday, July 16 at 7 p.m. The council will not take a second vote on the resolution.
“Some citizens may ask, ‘Why?’” Councilman David Martin, liaison to the city’s ethics commission, said. “It’s simple, the City of Havre de Grace is committed to creating and maintaining a work environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity.”
The policy came about after several months of discussions among ethics commission members, elected officials and city staff, revisions and legal reviews.
That process started when the issue of whether the city had a written policy to handle accusations of discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct among its employees and elected and appointed officials was raised during a commission meeting in March, according to Martin.
“A question was raised in light of current #metoo events,” Martin said, referring to the recent tide of accusations of sexual misconduct, sometimes decades old, by powerful figures in the entertainment, government, business and media spheres.
Martin said city employees are covered by policies in their employee handbook, but appointed and elected leaders’ conduct is governed by the city charter and code.
“By today’s standards, the city did not have a viable written policy [in the code],” he said.
The commission then sought permission from Mayor William T. Martin and the council’s administrative committee to create an update to the city ethics code “to bring Havre de Grace into the 21st century,” David Martin said. The mayor and councilman are not related.
“We stand in favor of this, and we ask you all to please support these two documents for us tonight,” John Correri, chairman of the ethics commission and a former mayor, City Council member and council president, said during the most recent council meeting.
“This is a positive step and one that will provide a roadmap for us to utilize when and if an applicable situation should present itself,” ethics commission member William Watson said of the proposed policy.
Watson also thanked David Martin, the council liaison, city attorney April Ishak, Director of Administration Patrick Sypolt and Human Resources Officer Christopher Ricci for their “invaluable assistance and support.”
The policy, as stated in the resolution approved by the council, includes definitions for harassment in general, harassment in terms of a person’s “protected status,” such as race, religion or sexual orientation, and sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment does not refer to occasional compliments of a socially acceptable nature or welcomed social relationships,” according to the resolution.
Sexual harassment does cover multiple offenses, as defined in the resolution, such as “touching or assaulting” another person’s body, any “express or implied demands for sexual behaviors” in exchange for favorable treatment in the workplace, “unwanted sexual advances” on another employee or official, language or jokes of a sexual, suggestive or obscene nature, or displaying sexually suggestive or graphic images in the workplace, according to the resolution.
The policy also outlines how to report and file a complaint, sets a prohibition against retaliation and has a provision for “corrective action,” up to the complainant’s resignation or removal from office if they file a false claim of harassment.
Watson noted the “inclusion of important language protecting persons who may be the victims of false accusations.”
“Our discussions were lively, always amicable, and I can honestly say that I am proud to have been part of this process with my colleagues,” Watson said. “This is exactly the type of interaction by our volunteers that makes Havre de Grace so unique and so very special.”
Havre de Grace is the first, among Maryland’s 157 municipalities, to have an anti-harassment policy covering appointed and elected officials, according to David Martin and Watson.
That information came from consultations with the Maryland Municipal League, Martin said.
“It once again reinforces that Havre de Grace leads by example,” Council President David Glenn said.
Jim Peck, a research specialist for the Annapolis-based Maryland Municipal League, confirmed Thursday that “nothing comparable” to Havre de Grace’s proposed policy “exists among Maryland municipalities at this time.”
He said other cities and towns have codes of conduct for appointed and elected officials, “but nothing of the breadth and depth of what Havre de Grace has done.”
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“There is no other municipality that has enacted an ordinance of this sort to control behavior through their ethics ordinance,” Peck said.