Chicago aldermen on Wednesday approved adding elected officials to rules barring sexual harassment of other city officials or employees, a response to the issue put in the spotlight by sexual harassment accusations in Hollywood, Springfield and across the country.
The City Council unanimously voted to extend the prohibition to aldermen, the mayor, treasurer and city clerk, though no allegations have surfaced publicly against any of those officials.
“It’s one thing to pass the ordinance, which is the right thing to do if it was implicit where it should be explicit — elected officials are included,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said after the council meeting. “But it’s clear post the election, Roger Ailes, O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, that there also has to be a change in attitude, and not just for women, but for men.”
“And things where people in the past looked the other way, only murmured about it, (people) have to be able to have the confidence to speak up and say what’s not accepted, or acceptable,” Emanuel said. “And so the ordinance is one step, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure there’s not a culture that gives a permission slip, or permits, a behavior that is totally unacceptable where women feel that they are put upon, and because of their position and a man’s position, they can’t speak up.”
Previously, city employees could face fines or other discipline for sexual harassment, but elected officials weren’t covered by the same rules. Now, the city inspector general as of Jan. 1 will be able to investigate claims of sexual harassment against officials. After an investigation, the Board of Ethics could fine officials $1,000 to $5,000 or in “such other manner as it deems appropriate.”
City employees can face getting suspended or fired for violating the sexual harassment policy. But that’s off the table for elected officials because they are officers under state law, and the Board of Ethics doesn’t have the authority to suspend or remove them.
Wednesday’s vote won’t be the end of the issue at the city level. Ald. Margaret Laurino, 39th, plans to introduce an ordinance that would require all city employees and elected officials to take annual training courses aimed at preventing sexual harassment. If they didn’t comply, they would face daily fines of $200 to $750.
The council Wednesday also approved making bullying or harassment an ordinance violation. A first offense would carry a fine of between $100 and $250, and further offenses would carry fines of $250 to $500.
“For too long, a code of silence has existed in American society that has protected individuals in every walk of life who’ve committed acts of sexual harassment or bullying of subordinates,” said Ald. Ed Burke, 14th. “It’s simply demeaning and morally reprehensible, and it has no place in city, county or state government.”
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