Council Set Dangerous Precedent for Victim Advocacy and Civil Rights & Protections

Editorial — Misty Witenberg

At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Hagerty issued a unilateral determination that Clerk Devon Reid violated City workplace rules and state law. Reid was not afforded a hearing nor an impartial tribunal. The Mayor then took the unprecedented step of making vague portions of the case open for public and Council discussion. Not only was Reid not permitted to defend himself, he was not even allowed to address the charges against him, even while members of Council used charged language and mischaracterized the basis and context of the complaints and charges against Reid to the public.

Further, the sole legal advisor provided to Reid and Council on the matter was Reid’s own accuser. And Council missed mentioning that her filing against Reid was in direct retaliation of Reid lawful submission of a request for investigation against her to an outside agency in her refusal to comply with FOIA, and in her reported instruction to other staff not to comply. — Her second harassment allegation regarded Reid’s repeated requests and orders under his lawful authority for her to comply with FOIA and City Code. — The third allegation, what the City said constituted sexual harassment, regarded a claim Reid used two unflattering words (b***h and cuck) to describe the Corp. Counsel within earshot of Reid’s Deputy Clerk.

It’s easy to imagine that those conversations between Reid and the Law Department did grow increasingly antagonistic, especially as the City continually permitted Corp. Counsel to thwart Reid’s lawful authority as Clerk and FOIA officer and allowed the Law Department to make its own determinations of whether or not it was breaking the law.

And while I won’t go so far as to defend hostility or name calling (assuming that happened), we didn’t get an investigation to determine if Corporation Counsel ever described Reid in an unflattering light. And while City employees, Reid included, do have a right to a safe working environment, they do not have right to disobey lawful authority without consequences.

Victim Advocacy

The Mayor and Ald. Wynne claimed the only option Council had with its peers is censure. This is partially true. City Code and Council Rules permit Council to censure other alderpersons for specific infractions, none of which applied in this case. And that is because Council does not and should not have the authority to arbitrate Human Resources complaints or violations of state law. As a public body, Council’s actions on harassment complaints unnecessarily infringe on victims’ privacy rights. Worse, it means staff reporting harassment by elected officials would have their complaints publicly deliberated on by a panel of their abuser and abuser’s peers.

Council’s actions on harassment complaints unnecessarily infringes on victims’ privacy rights.

Worse, it means staff reporting harassment by elected officials would have their complaints publicly deliberated on by a panel of their abuser and abuser’s peers.

Source: Evanston Municipal Code

Corporation Counsel affirmed Council’s lack of authority to censure the Clerk, but posed it as a hypothetical, implying that the rules apply to Reid as a corporate authority that sits on City Council. This part was especially ridiculous. Apparently neither our Corp. Counsel nor our City Council/corporate authorities is aware that the Clerk is not a member of City Council, nor is he a corporate authority.

Source: Rules & Organization of the Evanston City Council
Source: City of Evanston

Like the City Manager and Corp. Counsel, the Clerk is a full-time employee and head of a City department who attends Council meetings to perform certain functions per City Code.

What Council is suggesting is that is that the City has no recourse against a department head who harasses his or her staff other than with a public statement of disapproval.

Due Process and Discrimination

Just as carelessly, Council set precedent that strips rights from persons accused. The Mayor denied Reid a hearing before charging him with misconduct and violations of law. The attorney provided to Reid at his public sentencing was his own accuser, who was also advising the body deciding his penalty.

And this is far from the first time Reid has been arbitrarily subjected to City action and scrutiny. In 2017, Reid was admonished for a memo he issued to the City that it was acting in violation of the Open Meeting’s Act–a fact that was affirmed by the Attorney General’s Office. After Reid, the Law Department and the Police Department failed to make proper FOIA redactions, it was only Reid Council held accountable. After Reid and other residents reported the Law Department was acting in violation of FOIA, not only did the City not investigate, it permitted the Law Department to determine whether or not it was culpable, and Council subsequently transferred (against Council Rules) primary FOIA authority from the Clerk to those accused of the violations.

And it was these failures by the City that directly resulted in an adverse work environment for all parties. To fulfill his responsibilities under state law, Reid was forced to directly demand compliance from the Law Department in encounters that grew increasingly adversarial, and ultimately led to him submitting an ARDC complaint against the head of the Law Department. All three complainants cited these encounters in their complaints, which were filed immediately Reid’s ARDC submission. The City also charged him for filing with the ARDC. All three staff complainants (only two of which were sustained) filed immediately after Reid submitted the ARDC complaint, citing these encounters as basis for their complaints.

Council’s Abuse of #MeToo Messaging

Finally, I was one of many residents who spoke out against the City’s discriminatory application of process in this case on Monday. I, like many of those speakers, have been the victim of serial workplace sexual harassment as well as violent sexual assault. And I, like those other speakers, and Council members who voted to table this bizarre ad hoc process, was falsely accused by Alds Wilson and Wynne for disregarding the rights and legitimate complaints of harassment victims. Ald. Wilson and Wynne lied, to the detriment of all involved parties in a blatant attempt to shame residents who spoke out against their gross abuse of power.

“I want to let City staff to know that I believe them,” Wynne said. “If I sound angry, I am furious. As someone who was not believed 30 years ago, I don’t ever want that to happen to anybody else.” (Wynne’s record, by the way doesn’t support her “belief” of harassed staff. And Wynne herself is on record attempting to defame members of the public who have spoken out in any lawful capacity against City officials.)

Wilson, told the public we needed to have faith in Council’s process. “You’re rejecting the real and legitimate concerns of human beings who spend every day of their lives working for you,” Wilson said. “Wow. You need to think about that.” (That second part, by the way, is misleading. Two of Reid’s three accusers work for and represent the City corporation, not the public. In fact, when public interest conflicts with corporate interest, they advocate against the public.)

This, in large part, is why victims of sexual harassment aren’t believed, because people like Wynne and Wilson pit the rights of accusers against the accused and exploited #MeToo messaging to vindicate their own harassment of Reid and residents.

The City of Evanston has provided very little evidence that it cares about the rights and well-being of its staff in this matter, let alone that of its residents. Especially given City’s corporate authorities and senior management:

  1. Instigated, perpetuated and ignored harassment and retaliatory acts against Reid;
  2. Leaked the content of confidential audio that was used to prompt Reid to resign and reportedly to “out” himself;
  3. For years refused to recognize Reid’s authority and duties under law; and
  4. Rejected Reid’s own workplace harassment complaints.
  5. Not to mention Council’s repeated attempts to defame citizens who lawfully participate in public process.

I am angry. We are angry. It is justified.

One thought on “Council Set Dangerous Precedent for Victim Advocacy and Civil Rights & Protections

  1. ZoeAlden

    Are there actions that I can take other than communicating with my alderman – Don Wilson, unfortunately – to protest this? Is there a state body we could communicate with regarding discrimination/retaliation against Reid? I’m furious at Council, & want to be able to help in some way.

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