The Jordan City Council voted to remove Councilman Jeff Will from his committee assignments after reviewing the findings of a staff complaint lodged against Will in August.
In September, the city hired Frank Madden of Madden, Galanter, Hansen LLP, a Bloomington law firm, to conduct an outside investigation into an Aug. 16 staff complaint. Lawyers interviewed staff and Will before sharing findings with the city’s personnel committee last week.
On Monday, a redacted report from Madden was shared with the city council, including the allegations and findings. The complaint consisted of three allegations against Will, the first two stemmed from the Aug. 6 meeting of the city council.
Allegations and findings
The first part of the complaint alleged that prior to the Aug. 6 city council meeting, Will engaged in a private discussion with an employee and made inappropriate statements and asked personal questions that made the employee feel highly uncomfortable and intimidated. Madden’s investigation backed up those claims, though he said it was unclear and unsubstantiated that Will intended his comments to be uncomfortable.
The second part of the complaint also took place before the Aug. 6 meeting and alleged that Will used inappropriate and unprofessional language in the presence of the complainant and other staff while explaining a catch that took place during a recent fishing trip.
Madden concluded that Will’s use of offensive language in the presence of staff was “strongly substantiated.” It was also concluded that Will violated a city council resolution that prohibits him from engaging in one-on-one discussion with a city employee.
The personnel committee recommended Will be removed from all committee assignments for the remainder of his term and that it be reiterated that Will is to refrain from one-on-one contact with city staff.
That resolution stems from a previous investigation into Will’s conduct. In March, city attorneys reviewed a complaint of “abusive communication” from Will toward a city employee. Following the investigation, the council voted to remove Will from the personnel committee and prohibit him from one-on-one contact with city employees for the rest of 2019.
On Monday night, Councilmen Jeremy Goebel, Terry Stier and Robert Whipps expressed disappointment in the legal counsel’s lack of recommendations for the council.
“We hired this attorney and we expected them to give us suggestions and they didn’t. That’s frustrating,” Goebel said.
Stier, who sits on the personnel committee, said Madden was not at the personnel committee meeting and did not give the committee nor council any recommendations to follow.
“That was the entire reason to hire them, was that it was going to be cleaner than the previous (investigation), because we’d have actual suggestions and findings,” Goebel said. “This is pretty bad.”
City Administrator Tom Nikunen said Madden met with him last week after submitting his findings and recommended safeguards to protect city staff.
“He did say that basically the only thing you can do and the only power you have is to take (Will) off committees,” Nikunen said.
Goebel made a motion to remove Will from the planning commission only through the remainder of the year, in order to match the resolution removing him from the personnel committee earlier this year. Multiple times, Mayor Tanya Velishek asked the council how their decision will protect city staff.
“How are you protecting employees that work at the city? That’s your responsibility as a council member,” Velishek said. “How are you protecting them?
“We knew this going in, in all honesty, that there was only so much that we could do no matter what the findings were,” Councilwoman Amanda Schuh said. “...Now here we are. We didn’t get specific recommendations, which is fine, but really this is all we could do and we knew that going in.”
Goebel’s motion eventually failed for lack of a second.
Councilman Stier’s motion, to remove Will from all committee assignments for the rest of his term and reiterate that he is to refrain from one-on-one contact with city staff, passed a 4-1 vote, with Goebel opposed and Will abstaining.
The matter was listed on the agenda under the public comment section and following the vote, local resident and former councilman Thom Boncher criticized the council’s decision to place the issue on that part of the agenda and to not include the committee’s recommendation with the rest of the agenda items, which were released Friday afternoon.
“This is the first time in my recollection I can remember the city council making resolutions and acting on them during public comment,” Boncher said. “You folks are setting and awful lot of precedents, it seems to me.”
Whipps said he expressed the same concern earlier that day and that he believed it should have been under the administrator’s report since that is where the initial investigation authorization was placed.
“To clarify, we put this under public comment because it’s a very uncomfortable situation and we’re not going to put it under where someone else wants it put,” Velishek said. “I’m going to be very clear that it was under public comment because it’s about an employee and a council member.”