Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Commissioner Forsman Comments on “Real” Sexual Harassment Complaint

At the recent County Board workshop on October 16th Commissioner Forsman again commented on sexual harassment complaints filed against County Commissioners Rauker and Fink, even after County Attorney Melanie Ford advised him not to do so.

The Board met in closed session to discuss litigation pending against the county pertaining to a pending sexual harassment complaint between county employees. Prior to this session, during the County Board workshop, Commissioner Forsman referred to that matter as a “real” sexual harassment case, not to be confused with the cases that were brought against commissioners, which he apparently does not think were “real”.

This only reinforces the need for some training for these commissioners, as well as a “Code of Conduct”.

Thoughts from the recent County Board Workshop on October 16th……regarding that “Code of Conduct”

I attended the recent County Board workshop where the first item on the agenda was the proposed “Code of Conduct”. It quickly became clear that the majority of the Board members (AKA Fink,Forsberg,Raukar,Nelson) have no intention of adopting any such Code anytime soon.

Commissioner Fink immediately indicated that he objected to the statement “Each public servant is expected to model respect, trustworthiness and fairness in all county related activities and relationships” under the broad heading of “Respect”. He did not believe that “respect, trustworthiness and fairness” were related to one another! Additionally, he requested that the document have a “definitions” page so everyone would know what these terms mean.

Some commissioners were concerned that language about “prohibiting” specific types of behavior should not be in the Code. Another area of controversy was with respect to the proposed Ethics Committee and review panel. Some commissioners were very concerned that these bodies might actually have the ability to investigate complaints and make recommendations regarding action. They clearly were threatened by this concept.

It should be noted that Commissioner Fink was especially challenging at this meeting, questioning most aspects of the draft Code but when asked how he would improve it, responded, “I have no recommendation” and “That was not my responsibility” (to come up with alternative language).

Specific language regarding harassment included the statement, “The County is committed to ensuring that no employee feels endangered or unreasonably uncomfortable in their workplace”. Some commissioners objected to the term “feels” and thought an employee needed to actually “be” endangered or unreasonably uncomfortable in their workplace”.

All in all it was a disappointing session but one that just reinforces the need to keep “watching” the County Board.

If it smells like a rose....

If County Commissioners are not employees why does the county deduct Social Security, FICA and why are they covered by employee health care.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Draft Code of Conduct To Be Considered

The proposed "Code of Conduct" has now been made available and will be considered at the upcoming County Board Workshop this Tuesday, Oct 16th at the Public Works Dept. conference room located at 4787 Midway Road, Duluth, MN. The starting time has been changed to 9:00 a.m.

It is important that folks concerned about this issue attend this meeting to let commissioners know that we are still paying attention.

A copy of the proposed Code should be available on the We are Watching web site soon

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Men As Peacemakers Letter to County Board

Peacemakers call County Board members to account

Men as Peacemakers was founded in 1996 to respond to the noticeable absence of men in peacemaking and violence prevention efforts in the Duluth community. As our group has grown, the areas of our work have grown as well.

In 2005, the Minnesota Department of Health hired Men as Peacemakers to assist in developing a statewide effort to involve men in the prevention of sexual violence. Like any prevention effort, to be effective, we must change the norms that support negative behaviors.

The recent actions of certain St. Louis County commissioners, exempting themselves from responsibility for sexual harassment, were examples of a norm that must change. As board members of Men as Peacemakers, we felt compelled to speak out and let the community know our position on this issue. As leaders, we believe that sexual harassment is wrong and unacceptable under any circumstance, especially by a community leader. Sexual harassment is about the misuse of power and is defined by the victim, not by the offender. In this case, it is about the incredible power elected officials have over those who work for them.

The County Board’s recent decision to develop a policy that will hold members accountable for acts of sexual harassment was an example of how community initiative and County Board response can promote positive change. Changing policy is only one example. Further examples include acknowledgement of the harm that was inflicted and displays of attitudes and behavior that will prevent further harm.

Each time an organization sets and enforces a policy, it changes the way those actions are seen in the community and affects the behavior of others. Elected officials must lead by example. By apologizing and holding themselves accountable for their actions, they can do just that.

Ken Schoen, Patricia Behning, Marcus Brunning, Jim Cherveny, Blair Gagne, Fletcher Hinds, Matt Johnson, Ken Muckala, Deb Sauter, Don Streufert, Robert Wahman and Chuck Walt


The writers are board members of the Duluth-based grass-roots nonprofit Men As Peacemakers.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

How did today's meeting in Duluth go?

Hi there,
I didn't go to the meeting today. Can anybody tell me how it went? Just comment on this post.
Big thanks, Sandra

Sunday, October 7, 2007

another sensible editorial

County Board has the right to remain silent. And should.

Duluth News Tribune
Published Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Probably the most important advice a lawyer can give a client is to remain silent. In criminal cases, any defense lawyer worth anything knows that police and prosecutors mean it when they warn that anything you say can and will be used against you.

The advice is equally invaluable in the civil arena, when a few words uttered by even the most innocent party can end up, rightly or wrongly, being the basis for a large-figure lawsuit. So St. Louis County Attorney Melanie Ford’s caution to County Board members to cease speaking publicly about harassment cases — out of concern that more may be filed — should be accepted as the good counsel it is.

Should County Board members be able to exercise their right of unfettered free speech? Absolutely. But discretion dictates that the gasoline set off by getting a last word in or lobbing even a justified defensive remark shouldn’t be poured on high-flaming emotions, which are running rampant in county government.

The admonition, by the way, shouldn’t be interpreted as directed to one side of the board or any particular member or members. The entire body would be wise to heed the county lawyer’s advice.

St. Louis County attorney to county board: Stop talking about harassment complaints

I'm sure most of you have read the article below, or watched it on our Northern Minnesota news. In case you missed it you can watch it on http://www.northernmnnews.com/. it's the third video clip right after 2 great statements by Kathy and Kevin. Thank you for those by the way.

It was good to see how positive for example Commissioners Kron and Sweeney were. They thanked Melanie Ford for doing her job. Unfortunately Commissioner Nelson's behavior was less than impressive. We will see how it will do this Tuesday, please join us!


St. Louis County attorney to county board: Stop talking about harassment complaints

Duluth News Tribune
Published Tuesday, October 02, 2007

To protect the county from more potential sexual harassment complaints, St. Louis County Attorney Melanie Ford today advised the County Board not to talk about complaints filed earlier this year against two commissioners or about the female employees who filed the complaints.“There’s a lot of talk out there that there could be other complaints,” Ford told commissioners at the end of regular board meeting in Duluth. “There’s a lot of people in the county talking about what’s going on, and there’s even talk about them getting together and filing a complaint.”

Earlier this year, sexual harassment complaints were filed against Commissioners Dennis Fink and Steve Raukar.

Following investigations by Duluth attorney Elizabeth Storaasli, both commissioners were found by the county’s personnel officer to have violated a county harassment policy. However, as elected officials, commissioners are not subject to the same policy that covers county employees.

The board, in two separate split votes, didn’t take disciplinary action against either commissioner.

Further public discussion about the issue — either to media or among commissioners — could lead to additional complaints from the complainants or from others, said Ford.

“I am here telling you that it is a possibility, and I am here to suggest there is a way to reduce the risk of a complaint or lawsuit being filed,” said Ford. “I would suggest you not make your feelings public about the harassment complaints.”

Commissioners Peg Sweeney and Bill Kron thanked Ford for her legal advice.

Kron said former county attorney Alan Mitchell offered similar warnings to the board during Mitchell’s tenure.

“You have told us some areas to be careful of and that is your job,” said Kron.

Sweeney said Ford’s job is to “put up red flags,” to the board and “prevent further victimization of the victims.”

However, Commissioner Keith Nelson said Ford was keeping the issue alive by bringing it up at a board meeting.

For more of this story, read tomorrow's Duluth News Tribune and check back to duluthnewstribune.com.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Clean Water Resoration Act

I was surprised to hear a County Commissioner speak in opposition to the bill Representative Oberstar has put forth. Our own County Professional Staff has testified in front of a Congressional Committee in support of the bill. It's a very important piece of legislation intended to restore protections for water in our nation. I cannot imagine anything worse than leaving the decisions about what the regulations for clean water should be to a county in Ohio or Mississippi or Minnesota (our standards are already higher than the federal ones) for that matter. We're all connected and the water from our backyard flows into the creeks, streams, rivers and lakes we all drink from.