There’s a lot to unpack when discussing the allegations Ben MacShane made against fellow alderman Roger Wilson this past weekend.
MacShane, in a widely circulated Facebook post on Saturday, leveled serious allegations, saying he’s heard “credible reports of widespread misconduct” by Wilson from several unnamed women. MacShane said those claims “describe sexual harassment, unwelcome advances, coercion, and quid pro quo offers.”
Wilson, in turn, has called these claims “false” and “slanderous.”
What’s followed since has been a discussion, playing out mostly on social media, of not only Wilson’s innocence or guilt but also MacShane’s decision to make the accusations public on Facebook.
But before we go any further, it is critical we say this: Charges of sexual harassment and impropriety must always be taken seriously, and each case needs to be investigated. Period.
Victims of sexual harassment need to be given a safe and confidential way of making their concerns known to whatever authority is appropriate. And it is this point where we have been most surprised by what’s transpired these past few days. Apparently, there is no clear path to file a complaint against a sitting elected official in Frederick.
This is the rationale MacShane used to justify airing the allegations on Facebook. “With no official process available for these women, I agreed to bring this into the light,” he told us Monday.
While we don’t believe Facebook was the right way to go about this, we agree with MacShane that there needs to be a better way to address these kinds of allegations when leveled at elected officials.
At present, there seems to be a fire drill of sorts in determining what to do, with a majority of aldermen, including Wilson, calling for an independent investigation into the matter, although it’s not entirely clear how that investigation might be organized or by whom. Some have suggested the Maryland Attorney General’s Office provide guidance, though that thought, at least at this point, is nothing more than an idea.
Part of the problem is that the city of Frederick does not consider elected officials government employees, so neither the city’s human resources department nor the mayor have any authority to investigate or discipline an elected official, Alderwoman Kelly Russell told reporter Ryan Marshall earlier this week.
From what we can tell, Frederick isn’t unique in this distinction. The rationale is that a decision to remove someone from office is typically left to the voters. Even the city’s ethics rules aren’t applicable because they mostly apply to conflicts of interest and financial disclosures.
Late on Saturday, Mayor Michael O’Connor issued a news release and followed that with an email, which said, “With the allegations public, my statement commits to involving city departments to provide appropriate support.”
That’s good to hear. Now that O’Connor has committed the city to provide support, he can start, if he hasn’t already, by helping to chart a process for investigating the allegations, perhaps reaching out to the attorney general’s office to formally request help. At the same time, he can, as suggested by Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak, look at how other places have dealt with similar issues.
O’Connor can also join with the aldermen to craft legislation that would put a process in place should this situation arise again. MacShane told us Monday that he is working on an idea now.
But that’s only moving forward. For the issue at hand, an independent investigation seems to be the best option. For the sake of all, we need to get at the truth and not the continual din of comments on social media.