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Charlotte Area

City Council authorizes sex harassment investigation

The Charlotte City Council voted yesterday to hire an outside investigator to find out if a council member sexually harassed a city employee. Meanwhile, Mayor Anthony Foxx is defending how he's handled the situation. Mayor Foxx says there was "no perfect way" to handle a situation as sensitive as a city staffer accusing a city councilmember of sexual harassment. But Councilman Edwin Peacock says sending a "please don't harass the staff" e-mail to the entire city council was definitely the wrong approach. "There's no perfect way, as he said," said Peacock. "But there's a right way. And this was not the right way. Period. You just don't do this. This could have been avoided by having a private meeting with the parties involved." The situation arose when a city staff member went to the HR director with concerns about the behavior of a member of the city council. The HR director brought the issue to City Manager Curt Walton who turned to Mayor Foxx. "I asked the Mayor to be involved because it was in my opinion an elected official to an elected official discussion," said Walton. Since Walton answers to the city council, he says he didn't feel comfortable reprimanding one of them. Furthermore, he says there's no sexual harassment policy in the city council's code of ethics, "and so, it is a situation we've never found ourselves in before, so there is no track record to follow." Mayor Foxx says he suggested a meeting between the council member accused of inappropriate behavior and city managers, but that didn't happen. And so, he felt his only option was to send a short email to the entire council warning that sexual harassment would not be tolerated. "And to those of you who feel that you've been singled out or unduly targeted, that was never the intention and I don't think the text of that email suggests an accusation towards anyone," says Foxx. "It's a difficult situation." The situation has preoccupied the council for more than a week. Several members say the mayor's email led the public to suspect all of them. But most suspicion this week has focused on Councilman Warren Turner. The Charlotte Observer has cited anonymous sources who say a city employee accused Turner of sexual harassment, although a formal complaint has not been filed. On Monday, Turner said an investigation was unnecessary without a formal complaint. But yesterday he voted with the majority of the council to authorize an outside investigation saying he supports, "whatever it takes to get it cleared." The investigation will not publicly reveal the identity of the staff member involved in the incident. The city council also voted to add a sexual harassment policy to its code of ethics so there will be a clear process for dealing with situations like this in the future.