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Video captures Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky swearing at bus driver

Five days before he was censured for what his colleagues on Santa Rosa’s City Council called abusive behavior toward staff, Councilman Gary Wysocky was caught on video shouting obscenities at a city bus driver who the councilman says almost ran him over.

The latest revelation of less than diplomatic language being used by city leaders comes to light two weeks after Wysocky took Councilman Jake Ours to task for swearing from the dais during a public council meeting.

The incident was captured on video from cameras mounted on a paratransit bus as it traveled south on Brookwood Avenue shortly after 1 p.m. June 5. Paratransit buses are small buses that offer dial-a-ride services to disabled people.

The city released the videos this week in response to a Public Records Act request by The Press Democrat. The videos were preserved after witnesses reported the exchange to city officials, triggering a personnel investigation of Wysocky that apparently remained dormant for months.

The forward-facing video shows the bus coming up on a cyclist riding in the bicycle lane on Brookwood Avenue as it crosses Santa Rosa Creek near police headquarters.

The rider is Wysocky, who has used a bicycle, in this case a mountain bike, as his primary mode of transportation for years.

The bus is being driven by an unidentified male driver and is carrying two passengers. After the bus crosses the bridge over Santa Rosa Creek, it passes Wysocky shortly after he enters an area where the bike lane striping ends.

The approximately 100-foot-long area is a transition zone meant to allow vehicles to cross into the right-hand turn lane and the bicyclists to merge left into the bike lane at the intersection of Sonoma Avenue, explained city traffic engineer Rob Sprinkle.

In some communities, such zones are marked with dotted lines to show where the bicycle lane continues. In others, such as Windsor and Rohnert Park, they are painted bright colors to warn drivers to be aware bicyclists may be crossing the vehicle travel lane. There are no such markings at the intersection of Brookwood and Sonoma, but the city is experimenting with them in other intersections, Sprinkle said.

The videos show the bus passing Wysocky, crossing in front of him, entering the turn lane, and slowing to a stop at the light.

A few seconds later, Wysocky can be seen pulling up along the left side of the bus in the bicycle lane, which at that point is clearly marked between the turning lane and center travel lane. Wysocky stops at the light and addresses the bus driver.

“Could you move over a bit later?” Wysocky says calmly. “I don’t know if you realize how close you were to me.”

The driver snaps back, “Do you realize that you’re over the white line on the …”

The videos, which are recorded from several angles, appear to show Wysocky remaining near the left edge but within the marked sections of the bike lane at all times.

Wysocky then raises his voice, points to his chest and says “It’s my f---ing life, dude!”

“I know that,” the driver replies. “So I think you oughtta stay inside the line.”

After the light turns green Wysocky begins pedaling into the intersection, yelling over his shoulder, “You oughtta shut the f--- up!”

The driver, making a right turn onto Sonoma Avenue, laughs. A passenger asks “Was he joking around?”

“No, he was serious,” the driver responds.

The unnamed bus driver is not a city employee. He works for a Dallas-based company called MV Transportation, which has operated the city’s paratransit bus program since 2002. The company provides door-to-door service for disabled riders in 11 city-owned buses and two minivans.

Local MV Transportation officials referred questions to the corporate office, which had no comment.

Wysocky said he had no idea the city had received a complaint until he was alerted recently to the Public Records Act request. He said his reaction was understandable, given the close call with the bus and the way the driver responded.

“I got buzzed by a bus. I approached the driver respectfully, and he dumps on me,” Wysocky said. “Do I wish I hadn’t used profanity? Yeah. But I almost got hit by a bus!”

City Manager Sean McGlynn said he viewed the tape recently and felt the exchange did not represent “the best customer service response” from the driver.

“It doesn’t matter who the member of the public is,” McGlynn said. “You handle them professionally in the exchange.”

Contract bus drivers are held to the same public service standards the CityBus employees who drive the city’s larger buses and are trained to “de-escalate” conflicts, said Anita Winkler, deputy director of transit.

“This interaction did not meet our definition and expectation for customer service,” Winkler said.

The incident was reported by two city employees who witnessed it while they were out for a walk, Human Resources Director Fran Elm said. The employees heard the exchange, recognized Wysocky and reported the incident to city officials, Elm said. The witnesses assumed the driver was a city employee and they didn’t think the driver “should have to endure that kind of thing,” Elm said.

At that point, it became a personnel matter, Elm said. She declined to comment further.

McGlynn, who just started as city manager last month, said when he learned of the investigation, the matter was “still pending.”

All of the city’s 43 buses contain video cameras recording operations in real time. The video is recorded inside the bus, where it remains until it is overwritten by the system, typically about two weeks after it is recorded, Winkler said.

After receiving the complaint, transit officials recorded a copy of the relevant portions of the videos to preserve them, Winkler said.

The investigation included a review by the Santa Rosa Police Department, which “could determine no fault from either party,” McGlynn said. Because of that conclusion, when city officials spoke to MV Transportation managers they focused on the driver’s customer service response and not on his driving, McGlynn said.

He also urged Wysocky to take up such matters with him in the future, he said.

“I asked the council member in this case, as I would every council member, to remember in the future to always refer the issues they have with staff and any of our contractors to the City Manager’s Office,” McGlynn said.

He added that he now considers the matter resolved.

Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said he viewed the video and has concerns about it. One is that the bicycle lane is “poorly marked” and “not keeping up with modern practice” of dotted lines or colored zones for merging areas.

The other issue is whether the driver cut too close to Wysocky. He said it is hard to tell from the video how close the bus came to the bicycle, but it struck him as showing “bad judgment” on the driver’s part to choose to cut in front of the bicyclist instead of waiting, especially given the proximity to the intersection.

“Was it really necessary to get ahead of the cyclist and then make a right turn in front of them?” Helfrich asked.

It is unclear why Wysocky was never told of the complaint back in June. He said he found the timing of the release of the video highly suspect and likely motived by his political opponents to make sure he remains in the council minority. Three seats are up for grabs in the November election, although Wysocky’s term runs through 2016.

“How convenient someone is leaking it right now during election time, right after Councilman Ours is cursing from the dais,” Wysocky said.

In that exchange, Ours, frustrated that Mayor Scott Bartley allowed Councilwoman Julie Combs to ask a question before him, muttered, “goddamn it!” Wysocky, believing the remark showed disrespect toward Combs, pointing his finger at Ours and said “No, that’s inappropriate.”

Wysocky last week denied Bartley’s claim that he called Ours an “ass” during the exchange. On Thursday he acknowledged calling Ours an “a--hole” and said he did so “under my breath.”

The investigation is the second personnel inquiry into alleged behavior by the second-term councilman, a CPA who has been a vocal critic of votes by his council colleagues to grant raises and multi-year contracts to city employees.

The first investigation followed a heated argument between Wysocky and the city attorney in the wake of the Andy Lopez shooting. The probe triggered a secret investigation by an outside legal firm whose report, released in highly redacted form by the city, set the stage for his controversial June 10 censure vote.

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

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