The office of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who earlier this year was accused of sexual harassment by a Denver police detective who'd worked for him, dodged an investigation by the Denver City Council for his behavior even though it appeared to violate city rules. Now, new policies put forward by Hancock's office say that he will face a non-Council third-party inquiry, but only if he sexually harasses in the future.
The Mayor's Office discrimination, harassment and retaliation policy and a new anti-fraternization procedure are accessible below along with a new respectful-workplace policy approved last night, August 6, by the Denver City Council, which flirted with the idea of investigating Hancock for his actions toward the Denver Police Department's Leslie Branch-Wise during the 2011-2012 period when she was on his security detail before deciding against doing so.
The reasons for the latter move were explained in an April statement from then-Denver City Council president Albus Brooks. It reads in part: "Based on extensive additional legal advice, Council is unable to grant Detective Branch-Wise’s request for an investigation. Since we are not the judicial branch, we are unable to make a legal conclusion about the Mayor’s conduct, and there are no disputed facts. In 2013, Detective Branch-Wise waived any opportunity to pursue the legal process where these types of legal conclusions are typically made. Furthermore, the request for an open investigation would be problematic under state law confidentiality requirements."
After Denver7 broke the Branch-Wise story on February 27, Hancock was lambasted by two different police organizations and chided by powerful politicos, with one former city council member calling on him to resign. Meanwhile, the City of Denver announced that it was developing new sexual-harassment training for city employees even though Hancock continued to insist that he didn't sexually harass Branch-Wise.
"I'm saying I did not sexually harass her," Hancock told Denver7's Tony Kovaleski. "My text exchanges with her blurred the line between being a friend and a boss."
Nevertheless, Hancock released a video apology over the matter. Here it is:
Despite Hancock's assertion that he wasn't guilty of sexual harassment, many observers felt that his texts ran counter to rules and regulations established by the Denver Career Service Authority. One section defines sexual harassment as "any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or other verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature when: 1. Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; or 2. Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or 3. Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment."
Moreover, examples cited by the DCSA under the sexual-harassment heading include "unwelcome sex-oriented verbal 'kidding'" and "unwelcome 'teasing' or jokes." And this collection of texts between Hancock and Branch-Wise seems to fit that description:
Hancock: "What are you doing tonight?"
Branch-Wise: "Nothing just watching TV."
Hancock: "Just giving you a hard time. I have to keep you balanced. All I hear from my friends is how fine you are. I just had dinner with three friends in LA and your name came up and they all commented on you. You should feel good my friends really appreciate you."
Hancock: "OK, so I just watched this story on women taking pole dancing classes. Have you every taking [sic] one and why do women take the course? If not, have you ever considered taking one and why? Thoughts?"
Hancock: "Be careful! I’m curious!"
Hancock: "Hope you are doing better."
Branch-Wise: "I am. Much better."
Hancock: "Very good. Have a good weekend."
Branch-Wise: "You too!"
Hancock: "Just landed in LV. It's party time, baby!!"
Branch-Wise: "Yay!!!!! Like a rockstar!"
Hancock: "Loved the short doo. You make it hard on a brotha to keep it correct everyday."
Hancock: "You look sexy in all that black! LOL!
Branch-Wise: "You saw me?"
Hancock: "How would I know you had on black? Were all over the TV!"
Amid the furor over the Branch-Wise revelations, the Mayor's Office revealed that it was developing new sexual-harassment training for city employees. Denver Manager of Safety Troy Riggs implied that this move was a response to the texting controversy, but that was later denied by Diane Vertovec, director of marketing and communications for Denver's Office of Human Resources, who said the training had been in the works for months.
Now come the new policies, which establish different reporting procedures for victimized city workers. If the mayor is the harasser, the first document below (originally obtained by the Denver Post) states, "an employee or appointee should report such conduct to the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, the City Attorney, or the Executive Director of Human Resources. ... Complaints against the Mayor will be promptly investigated, as appropriate, by a third-party investigator retained by the City Attorney’s Office. The City Attorney’s Office will coordinate the investigation and make recommendations based on the results of the investigation."
As for the Mayor's Office anti-fraternization procedure, it mostly deals with romantic relationships among city employees. But one passage stresses that employees should "refrain from public displays of affection, flirtation, sexual innuendo, sexually-oriented banter and joking, and suggestive comments, in the workplace and during the course of their job duties. This pertains to all forms of communication including, but not limited to, phone calls, emails, text messages, and social media."
The Mayor's Office docs are brief compared to the new Denver City Council approach to maintaining a respectful workplace. But while the the policy pertains to the council and doesn't include a single use of the word "mayor," its subtext is clear from its introductory paragraphs:
The citizens of the City and County of Denver...expect their elected officials to behave in a manner befitting the honor and privilege they hold as representatives of the City. Through adoption, implementation, and enforcement of this Respectful Workplace Policy...and through continuing education and training provided by the Office of Human Resources, the Denver City Council will seek to prevent, address, and correct behavior that violates this Policy.
The Denver City Council is committed to providing and maintaining a professional work environment that encourages mutual respect and promotes equality, dignity, and respect. This Policy embodies the Denver City Council’s commitment to prevent and address discrimination; harassment, including sexual harassment; and retaliation. Discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace are against the law and will not be tolerated.
Perhaps the words "from this point forward" should have been added to the last sentence above.