The idea that an individual charged with misconduct should be able to look their accuser in the eye and know the evidence against him dates back to Roman law — long before it was enshrined in our nation's Sixth Amendment.
But that important principle was overlooked Tuesday in what was a very public trial of Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky.
During another raucous meeting centered around the dysfunction that began in the days following the Andy Lopez shooting and persists, the City Council voted 4-2 to censure Wysocky because for two days in October his "behavior towards City Hall staff was aggressive and/or disrespectful."
The meeting included jeers, speeches, long resolutions and recriminations loaded with words such as "abusive" and "witch hunt."
What it didn't include, however, was evidence.
The resolution "disapproving and censuring certain behavior of Councilmember Gary Wysocky," was based on an investigation conducted at a cost to the city in excess of $44,000. The focus was on what happened Oct. 28-29 in a heated exchange at City Hall involving Wysocky, City Attorney Caroline Fowler and possibly other city staff.
The investigation, conducted by attorney Morin Jacob of the San Francisco law firm of Liebert Cassidy and Whitmore, concluded that Wysocky did not violate Santa Rosa's anti-harassment policy. It did conclude, however, that Wysocky was guilty of violating the City Council's code of conduct. But, as we've noted before, the 31-page document and the accompanying letters to city officials were so heavily redacted as to be useless, particularly as a tool for properly evaluating any specific examples of alleged misconduct.
Most of the evidence — names of those interviewed, specifics about what was said, etc. — is blacked out. In one section, 7? pages are redacted.
City staff contends the document was redacted to protect the privacy of city employees. But no explanation has been given as to the extreme standards used to determine what was grounds for redaction. Regardless, this zealous concern for protecting witnesses should not trump the right of the public to understand such serious charges against a duly elected member of the public.
The council members themselves weren't able to review unredacted versions of the report. According to City Manager Kathy Millison, only she and the human resources director have access to complete documents.
As a result, many things remain unclear. For example, was Wysocky censured for his conduct against one staff member or five? What specific words were used? Was it for his tone, body language or something else?
Yes, Wysocky has been known to raise his voice and be assertive. He also is known for raising important questions, such as those offered in the aftermath of the council's shameful duck-and-cover performance following the Andy Lopez shooting. Now the council has added to this sad chapter of dysfunction and secrecy by adopting a resolution of censure based more on adjectives than evidence.
Ironically, the one part of Morin's report that was clear and substantiated is her advice against seeking such a censure as it would be "unproductive" and "may exacerbate stressors that already exist." It's unfortunate the council majority didn't heed that advice.