West Linn city councilor under investigation for workplace harassment
An investigation into West Linn city councilor and mayoral candidate Jules Walters is underway following a workplace harassment complaint from fellow councilors Teri Cummings and Rich Sakelik. Sakelik also is running for mayor.
Cummings and Sakelik said they filed the complaint three months ago because of "escalating disrespectful behavior" from Walters, culminating at a June executive session. Cummings publicly announced the complaint against Walters at a council meeting Sept. 14.
According to Sakelik and Cummings, employment attorney Dee Rubanoff is handling the complaint, which they expect to wrap up by the end of the month.
During the Sept. 14 meeting, Cummings said she recently asked for legal advice on whether councilors can disclose that they have filed a workplace harassment complaint.
"Dee Rubanoff advised that the city cannot require a complainant to maintain confidentiality as long as it is clear that the complainant is not speaking on behalf of the city or the council," Cummings said.
Cummings later said in an interview that she filed the complaint against Walters following an executive session on June 9 "where Councilor Walters got enraged and started swearing profusely and made some ageism comments."
Walters said she was not enraged, but rather frustrated. She also said she never made ageist comments, adding that she soon will turn 50.
Cummings claims Walters said to her, "'I know you're old, but that doesn't mean you get to pretend like people's basic human rights don't exist.'"
Walters said her frustration was born out of a decision by other councilors to appoint a citizen to a "position of leadership" though that person was "known to have expressed hostilities toward gays and lesbians."
"I strongly reacted in response to the decision. I was frustrated, not enraged. I was not screaming. I used an expletive, for which I apologized," Walters said.
However, Cummings said this wasn't the only time Walters has sworn during council business. She said she also was troubled by Walters' conduct at a meeting March 3, when the council voted to release the tape of an executive session from October 2018. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission found three councilors in violation of executive session rules after investigating that 2018 meeting.
At the time the council also was discussing the release of executive sessions related to the Michael Fesser case.
"It feels a little offensive to use Mr. Fesser's case to release this other meeting; it sounds like you are attempting to use this morally outrageous matter to get this agenda item you've wanted for some time," Walters said at the March meeting.
Following the vote and a further contention between Walters and Cummings, Cummings (who was presiding over the meeting as council president in the mayor's absence) called a recess.
"After about five minutes (into the recess), she (Walters) comes storming down the hall and goes 'when are we going to resume the meeting? I'm ready to get this over with and go home.' She's all red in the face and is really flustered, and I looked at her and said, 'Jules are you going to be able to keep your temper or control yourself?' Cummings recounted. "I can't remember my exact words and she goes 'F--- you.' and turns around and storms away."
Cummings and Sakelik said the complaint also is due to Walters' refusal to mediate with them as an attempt to improve relationships. Cummings said Walters has ignored multiple emails and phone calls from her asking for mediation.
Tensions between Cummings and Sakelik, who often are allies on issues facing the council, and Walters have been fraught since she joined the council in 2019.
"I've tolerated outrageous behavior from other members of the council in the past. Teri Cummings and I have strongly disagreed on many matters, including her use of the city attorney to defend the lawsuit to compel the production of her council notes," Walters said. "Teri Cummings, I feel, has filed a complaint against me as a political maneuver because I'm running for the position of mayor and this is yet another example of Teri's conduct causing the city of West Linn to use public funds for her personal agenda."
Sakelik said the complaint is not about the mayoral election, arguing that it was filed in June before both he and Walters had announced their candidacies.
According to Sakelik, the investigation could be wrapped up by the end of September. The city did not respond to a records request from Pamplin Media Group for documents and correspondence related to the complaint.
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