The Santa Rosa City Council formally rebuked Councilman Gary Wysocky on Tuesday for what it called his abusive behavior toward city staff, a move that came despite a raucous and belligerent crowd of Wysocky's supporters who shouted down, hissed at and booed the council majority as they sought to justify their unprecedented censure vote.
The circus-like atmosphere of the meeting began when residents started filling the council chambers wearing signs stating "I support Gary" and holding others that read "Stop the witch hunt!"
It intensified as speakers praised the second-term councilman and denounced the proposal to censure him, a punishment several noted the county Board of Supervisors had not even seen fit to level at Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who was acquitted in April of attempting to peek into a female neighbor's home.
And then it got downright ugly when the crowd, despite Mayor Scott Bartley's pleas that they show some respect, repeatedly interrupted council members, shouting "Shame!" and demanding they resign.
"I did not start this," said Bartley, who filed the complaint against Wysocky after overhearing a loud argument he had with City Attorney Caroline Fowler in October. "Mr. Wysocky started this by his behavior."
That alleged behavior was summarized in the censure motion itself, though several speakers claimed the motion and a heavily redacted investigative report where too vague or lacking in specifics to justify such a move. Councilwoman Julie Combs propped up beside her nameplate at the dais a sheet of paper from the report that had every word blacked out, a measure city officials said was necessary to protect employees' privacy.
The motion stated that Wysocky violated the city's code of conduct "in that his conduct towards city staff was disrespectful, not civil, detracted from a positive and constructive working environment, was abusive given his standing as an elected official as compared to the standing of city staff, did not serve to increase public confidence in city government and was not in keeping with the high standards of behavior required of council members."
That language was gleaned from the report on the investigation triggered by Bartley's complaint and conducted by an outside legal firm with expertise in employment law, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore. The probe was supposed to be secret but the redacted report was released by the council after Bartley complained that Wysocky was mischaracterizing its findings. The seven-month investigation has cost the city nearly $50,000 to date.
In the end, the council voted 4-2 for censure, a formal expression of disapproval and the first such action the City Council is known to have taken against one of its members. Bartley, Jake Ours, Robin Swinth and Ernesto Olivares voted in favor of censure. Wysocky and Combs voted against. Erin Carlstrom was absent.
First elected in 2008, Wysocky has been in the minority on the council since the 2010 election handed control to Bartley and his allies. He has frequently sparred with members of the majority and has earned a reputation as a dogged but at times abrasive figure on the council.
Shortly before the vote, Wysocky said that he was sorry if he offended members of the administrative staff in the city manager's office. But he made a clear distinction between them and senior staff, for whom he had no such apology.