Wheaton city officials, embarrassed by the recent disclosure of a culture of bullying and harassment that some say has lurked in a specific city department for years, say the city and department have rebounded in the months since the incidents were reported to council members.
A recent investigative report by the Chicago Tribune uncovered a city employee who is believed to have endured years of "crude pranks, improper touching and taunts about sensitive personal issues" and the discipline meted out against the two co-workers responsible and their supervisors.
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Mayor Michael Gresk said Monday that, back in February, one of the "primary tormentors" was suspended without pay for one week while another was moved to a different division. Supervisors, he said, were also disciplined "for letting it go on," but he did not disclose their punishment.
"This is a situation that we address in regular training so if this behavior was going on, it was under the radar. Once senior management became aware of it they jumped on it and launched an investigation," Gresk said, noting the discipline was handed down in February and the council made aware of the situation in April. "We are not taking this lightly as a city. Once we were made aware, there was a police investigation and hours and hours of meetings with human resources officials with all of the parties involved.
Council members said the police investigation, which included questions about an alleged "assault with a glow stick," resulted in no charges. A simultaneous human resources department investigation could not determine the truth from multiple versions of the incidents, some years old.
"We've done an investigation of what took place and taken follow-up actions with two of the people involved. We've also gone ahead and performed additional, although we do it periodically anyway, sessions for all of our employees on harassment and the workplace environment," said City Manager Don Rose, who handed down the discipline. "Unfortunately, we've had an issue, and the intervention we've done has gone a long way toward, hopefully, eliminating the problem."
Councilman Todd Scalzo said he believes the city's investigation arrived at the right conclusion. Based on the bargaining unit contract currently in place, he said, further discipline or termination would have been difficult, given the lack of documented history in any of the employees' personnel files.
"They launched an immediate investigation. They took input from at least five different department heads, gathered all of the facts and researched the law and looked at what the city's options were if we went to arbitration, he said. "They made decisions based on the facts and the law so I ultimately respect their decision and how they arrived at that decision."
Councilman Phil Suess said he's heard the criticism that the punishment was too light.
"Everyone may not like the decision, but I'm confident our city staff and administration acted appropriately in this scenario."
Councilman John Rutledge also agreed with the city's handling of the situation.
"Knowing what I know, I'm very satisfied with the way it was all handled, the overall resolution and the overall discipline," he said. "In total I'm satisfied with the professional matter in which this was handled."
Councilwoman Evelyn Pacino Sanguinetti, however, was not so quick to praise the city's administration, opting instead to go the cautious route.
"I'm collecting information so I can evaluate all of the documents and see the time frame in which this was conducted," she said. "Having come back from vacation yesterday, I want to be able to collect everything to make sure that no one dropped the ball here. I'm not ready to say either way."
Gresk, however, was clearly ready to move on from a situation he said was last discussed among city council members in April.
"This was a very sensitive, embarrassing and potentially illegal situation, and I'm truly sorry anyone had to endure any bullying of any kind," he said. "But we've dealt with it, we're a better team for it and I'm confident it's no longer an issue in our city departments."