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How to handle Turner scandal?
Without harassment rules for council, options are limited
 
Published Thursday, April 29, 2010 10:14 am
by Michaela L. Duckett, For The Charlotte Post

Charlotte City Council received the results of an investigation into allegations made by a city employee that she was sexually harassed by Councilman Warren Turner.

Charlotte City Council member Warren Turner allegedly made sexually inappropriate comments to city employees.


 It is unclear what will happen as a result of the investigation or the allegations.


The name of the employee who made the initial allegations has not been made public. She is only referred to as “Employee A” throughout the document detailing the investigation. The report also contains statements from employees B-F, who are five additional women who say Turner also made suggestive and sexually inappropriate comments to them.


“Sufficient evidence exists to conclude that Council Member Turner likely directed sexually inappropriate comments to Employee A,” wrote Attorney Valencia McDowell, who was hired to conduct the investigation.


Said council member Andy Dulin: “There is very little that we can do. Right now we are in a little bit of a holding pattern because the report is out… it said that (Turner) was inappropriate and possibly harassing, but it didn’t say that this was blatant sexual harassment.”


There is no sexual harassment policy in place to govern council members. Turner cannot be suspended or removed from office, but his colleagues can censure him. For that reason, council member Patrick Cannon has said the investigation is “without cause or effect.” Prior to the investigation, he warned the report would have “no real consequences or ramifications after those findings.”


Are the allegations enough to tarnish Turner’s image and ruin his political career? That remains to be seen.


Turner has represented District 3 since 2003. When asked about the report, many of his constituents in west Charlotte were unaware he had been accused of wrongdoing. Others suggested a political scheme to bring him down.


David Rozzelle said he hopes that Turner is given an opportunity to explain his side before people rush to judgment.


“Any time that you call a person’s name before finding out what the whole situation is, of course it’s going to tarnish your name,” he said.

“Then that person is left to prove himself innocent after being perceived to be guilty, especially when you show their picture along with the allegations they are facing. If it were me, I would want the opportunity to be innocent first.”


The allegations of harassment were made public after Mayor Anthony Foxx e-mailed a generic memo to council members stating that sexual harassment would not be tolerated.
Foxx has been criticized for the way he handled the situation, which he said was “thrust in his lap.”


“I really wish that the original email had not come out because it has possibly (backed) councilman Turner into a corner that he maybe didn’t need to be in,” Dulin said. “It’s my feeling and I suspect councilman (Edwin)  Peacock’s feeling that the first step might have been a private meeting. Remember, there was not a formal complaint… and nobody gave councilman Turner an opportunity to change his behavior. There again is that fine line between wanting to support our employees and not wanting to throw Warren completely under the bus.”


Dulin added: “I think he’s getting more support from the Republican side of our aisle than the Democratic side, and I don’t know why.”


Foxx appointed Cannon, Mayor Pro Tem Susan Burgess, Warren Cooksey and David Howard to an ad hoc Ethics Policy Review Committee to review the current Code of Ethics for city officials and consider whether it should be expanded to cover other areas, including a sexual harassment policy applicable to the City Council.


Turner has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to address the allegations in the future. He has called the investigation, which is expected to cost taxpayers $35,000, a waste of money and resources.


It is also unclear what impact the report or the allegations will on Turner’s fulltime job as a state probation officer.


According to the report, Turner admitted to threatening to physically harm a female Charlotte police cadet in 1988 while he was attempting to join the police force, but was less than truthful about why he left the academy.


Turner said he quit; employee records showed he was fired.


“I feel for my colleague Warren Turner because he’s got kids, too,” Dulin said. “He’s got a wife, and I wouldn’t want to be in that situation. I think he’s got as much work to do with his wife and his children as he does with the community.”

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