Mayor subject of harassment complaint

 


The recently resigned mayor of Coulee Dam is the subject of a sexual harassment complaint filed by a female city employee in October, according to a document obtained under the state’s Public Records Act.

A Dec. 4, 2018 letter to the city’s attorney from an independent investigator hired by the city details what he found from interviews with most of Coulee Dam’s employees after the city contacted Clear Risk Solutions of Ephrata Oct. 29, regarding allegations about Mayor Larry Price.

An assistant clerk/records specialist, whose name was redacted from the copy of the report The Star received, said Price had engaged in sexual harassment in the form of inappropriate jokes or comments and one incident that involved grabbing her by the waist and turning her around to illustrate a point during a conversation, embarrassing her, then telling other city employees about it later.

Investigator Mark Barger noted the city’s policy against sexual harassment includes “ ‘unwanted sexual comments’ and ‘jokes’ … ‘and other verbal or physical conduct … when it creates and intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.’”


Coulee Medical Center ER and Walk-In Care

After interviewing 10 city personnel, including Price, the investigator concluded that the preponderance of evidence substantiated the allegations that Price had “engaged in conduct that was sexual in nature and unwelcome to [the employee] and embarrassed her ….”

Price told the investigator that it was never his intent to intimidate, scare or harass her.

City Clerk Stefani Bowden told Barger that comments and jokes of a sexual nature came “almost on a daily basis” from Price, who took office at the beginning of 2018, but she just let them go.

The mayor has the power to fire employees, a fact noted by more than one worker to the investigator. The city clerk said several complaints had been made verbally, but none in writing.

The incident that finally sparked the complaint allegedly occurred in July during a conversation about an insurance claim that had been denied because of inconsistencies in statements.

The employee had “wondered out loud how the individuals skinned their knees and elbows if they fell backward.”

At that point, she said, Price, laughing, grabbed her by the waist and turned her around to face away from him up against the counter and said they’d been “doing this,” indicating a sexual encounter, according to the report.

She said she’d decided not to do anything about it at the time, thinking the mayor, who had seemed embarrassed, too, might apologize and that it would just not happen again.

But Price did not apologize, she said, and when she was told weeks later that he had related the incident “in a laughing and joking way” to men at the city maintenance shop, she decided to file the complaint.

Price related a similar account of the conversation about the insurance claim, but told Barger it did not include “pelvic thrusts.”

Price did not return a phone call and a text message seeking comment for this story.

He had, however, texted a brief note on Sunday, Dec. 9, saying he was resigning with “health issues.” He had previously told The Star he was taking a leave of absence because he had suffered “mini strokes” that could account for unusual behavior.

Mayor Pro Tempore Bob Poch has presided over the last two council meetings, including one Dec. 12, which included a closed “executive session” to receive complaints against a city official or employee. That meeting included City Attorney Mick Howe, to whom Barger’s letter had been addressed.

 

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