The Frederick Board of Aldermen has formalized a new ethics policy that will create a procedure for handling complaints about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior against the mayor or the board members.
It is the quiet ending to the controversy that gripped the city at the beginning of the year, when one alderman took to Facebook to publicize accusations of inappropriate behavior against another.
The new policy will at least close off the possibility of another embarrassing episode such as that.
Until now, the mayor or members of the Board of Aldermen had not been included in methods for reporting inappropriate behavior.
The revised policy allows someone who wants to file a complaint to take their concerns to the director of human resources or the city attorney. Complaints could be made on someone’s own behalf or on behalf of a colleague, according to a memorandum on the policy prepared by city staff.
If the HR director or city attorney feels a full investigation is needed, they can appoint an investigator to look into the complaint — either an employee of the city or an attorney or someone else retained by the city.
The investigator will set up a timeline for the investigation, notify and interview the elected official, interview all relevant witnesses, and prepare a written report summarizing the investigation, the testimony and all relevant evidence.
Except for the involvement of the HR director or city attorney, the process generally follows the actions that the city took after Alderman Ben MacShane posted a comment on Facebook last December about allegations he had heard from several women against Alderman Roger Wilson.
Coming as it did at the beginning of a city election year, in which Wilson was expected to challenge Mayor Michael O’Connor, the accusations quickly became embroiled in politics. And since no policy existed for dealing with such charges against an alderman, it was a firestorm.
After several weeks of charges and denials hurled by MacShane, Wilson and their supporters, the aldermen decided to hire an outside investigator, an attorney from Baltimore, to look into the charges.
She followed a process which essentially will now be formalized in the law, of interviewing Wilson and his accusers, and then writing a report to the board.
In May, the attorney hired by the city reported that she found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of Wilson but said that “sufficient evidence to conclude that Alderman Wilson relied on his position as an Alderman to gain the acquaintance and trust of women in the community” and that Wilson “then used a pretense of helping these women as an opportunity to request that they engage in sexual relationships with him.”
In the new policy, such a report would be given to the HR director who will refer it to the city’s Ethics Commission. The commission would either dismiss the complaint or hold a hearing, which could result in a referral for mandatory counseling or an official reprimand.
That sounds like a fairly sound and reasonable way of dealing with such allegations. When dealing with charges of inappropriate actions that fall short of criminality, an internal investigation that ends up before the Ethics Commission seems the right way to go.