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Inquiry into Santa Rosa Councilman Gary Wysocky complete, still secret


The six-month investigation into whether Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky created a hostile work environment at City Hall is over, but details of the probe remain secret because neither city officials nor Wysocky would release its findings.

City Manager Kathy Millison and Mayor Scott Bartley both confirmed the recent completion of the inquiry by San Francisco attorney Morin Jacob but declined to discuss it or release its conclusions, calling it a confidential personnel matter.

Wysocky confirmed he received a "vague, 3-page letter" from Jacob last week but refused to disclose it, citing the advice of his personal attorney. He said he had nothing to hide but was concerned about putting himself in legal jeopardy if he did so. He said he had no objection to the city releasing the letter.

"I want (the city) to bear the responsibility of someone claiming that their confidential employee rights were violated," Wysocky said. "I shouldn't have to bear that responsibility."

The murky conclusion to the highly unusual probe of the two-term councilman and candidate for Sonoma County auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector left at least one council member frustrated that the resolution of the matter isn't clearer.

"It's kind of like we've had a trial and we've had an outcome but we can't say whether anyone is guilty or not guilty," said Councilman Jake Ours, who said he's been told very little about the investigation. "This can't be the way it's supposed to be. Why would you have this process if nothing comes of it?"

Wysocky said the investigation confirmed that he "never violated the city's anti-harassment and discrimination policy." He declined to say whether the investigator found he violated other city or council codes or policies.

He acknowledged that the investigation determined he failed to treat the mayor and city attorney with respect during the tense weeks following the fatal Oct. 22 shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, but said he strongly disagreed with that conclusion.

"Disagreements are part of the democratic process," he said in a statement. "Any effort by the Mayor, City Attorney or this outside attorney they hired to silence dissent through coerced niceness is an attempt at intimidation, which I reject."

The investigation first came to light in November as the council debated the city's reaction to the death of Lopez, who was shot and killed by a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy who reportedly mistook his BB gun for an assault rifle. City Attorney Caroline Fowler declined to turn over to the council an email exchange she had with Wysocky, citing advice of outside counsel, which perplexed several council members.

It was later revealed that the outside attorney had been hired by Millison to investigate a complaint Bartley had filed following a loud argument he overheard between Wysocky and Fowler the morning before a large group of protesters were scheduled to march downtown.

Fowler had been involved in the decision to close City Hall shortly before the noon march, effectively canceling the financial subcommittee meeting Wysocky showed up at City Hall to attend.

Wysocky has acknowledged the discussion got "heated" but said Fowler "unloaded" on him during the meeting. Fowler has said she disagreed with his characterization of the conversation but has declined to detail the exchange.

Bartley has said the city needs to have a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace harassment by people "regardless of their position." Wysocky has decried the probe as a "trumped-up investigation" that is politically motivated and evidence of a "culture of secrecy" at City Hall.

Now that the investigation is complete, Wysocky on Wednesday stepped up his criticism of the probe, calling it a "misuse of power" by Bartley and a "huge waste of taxpayer dollars." The city has incurred about $35,000 in legal bills as of February, he said.

"Based on past billing, my guess is that it's approaching $50,000," Wysocky said.

Jacob, who works for the San Francisco law firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, has been charging the city $265 per hour, according to the city. Millison said the city would compile the billing records to date soon.

Wysocky noted that the law firm, which he said is on retainer with the city, has "acted in its legal capacity as investigator, judge and jury." The letter indicates that he can appeal the findings to Millison, but he said he would not.

"While I find this letter to be lacking in evidence and offensive to our democratic principles, I have opted not to appeal it in order to avoid costing taxpayers any more money on this charade," he said. "I am putting this letter behind me and moving forward with the job I was elected to do."

Councilwoman Julie Combs, a Wysocky ally, said she has always felt the investigation was politically motivated and a waste of money.

"I thought it was an attempt to besmirch Gary's name," Combs said.

She said she knows there are sometimes valid reasons to keep some personnel information confidential, but she worries that the overuse of that exemption threatens government transparency and the council's ability to oversee city spending.

"I feel strongly that we should know what our money was spent on," Combs said.

Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom said that from what little she knows of the incident it appears "tempers flared" during a period of high pressure and that "people make mistakes."

"I think we can acknowledge that it was a low point, and I hope that as a council we can move forward," Carlstrom said.

Sometimes the city manager and the city attorney can seem like colleagues to council members, Carlstrom said, but it is important to remember that they are in fact employees of the council as a whole.

"We have to be respectful of those interactions," Carlstrom said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.