I couldn't believe it. Maybe I was naive; city council meetings can be contentious. But I'd never heard something quite like this before. We heard disrespectful comment after disrespectful comment and egregious public victim shaming and blaming at the last city council meeting in Santa Cruz. And it all translated as we don't believe you, so be quiet, sit down, and shut up. This from the California coastal progressive bastion of #metoo and equal rights.
Earlier this year, a Sacramento-based law firm was hired to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of sexism, bullying and harassment. The scope of the investigation included complaints made by five individuals -- all women -- against Santa Cruz Councilmember Drew Glover and Councilmember Chris Krohn alleging violations of the City of Santa Cruz Administrative Procedure Order Section II, #1B Respectful Workplace Conduct; and City Council Policy 25.2, Discrimination, Harassment, Retaliation, and Respectful Workplace Conduct Policy occurring between July 2018 and May 3, 2019.
The final report was then submitted for review to the city in late July (and has since been released to the public) and the city HR director later ruled that there was sufficient evidence to substantiate the investigation's assessment that both Krohn and Glover had violated the city’s seven-page Santa Cruz Respectful Workplace Conduct Policy. There was one substantiated complaint each confirmed (evidence obtained through the investigation establishes the allegations are true) and multiple others filed against each councilmember that were not substantiated (the investigation failed to disclose enough evidence to either prove or disprove the allegations), which does not mean unfounded (evidence obtained through the investigation establishes the allegations is/are false). In fact, this shows a pervasive pattern of disrespectful workplace behavior and harassment.
I'm the current chair for the Santa Cruz City Council Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW), and myself along with our vice chair and other commissioners attended the September 24, 2019 Santa Cruz City Council meeting to to affirm our commitment to the women complainants who had come forward with regard to the abusive and disrespectful conduct of Councilmembers Krohn and Glover. As a Commission, we “Start by Believing” those who have the courage to come forward and share their stories of harassment and abuse. We stood and made that statement to the city council and the public.
We were also there in particular support of Susie O’Hara, who has served as our staff coordinator for CPVAW, and who is one of the five complainants. She made a heart-wrenching public statement at the council meeting with her entire family next to her -- her three daughters and her husband.
During the September 24 meeting, we heard multiple instances of Krohn and Glover supporters who claimed the complaints against them were false, blatantly victim shaming and blaming the women complainants with no replies or outcries to cease and desist other than from three other council members, two of whom were complainants.
Susie O’Hara was also publicly castigated directly in front of her husband and her children, telling her to "toughen up" and "deal with it." I was floored. Who are these people who live in my community? I thought.
The public display was quite destructive and damaging to the victims who had come forward as well as possible deterrent to other victims of bullying, harassment and sexual assault in the city and county of Santa Cruz.
There was also a proposed reprimand of the two councilmembers on the agenda, but the voices of the the victims and public were silenced when a majority of the council moved to table the censure item, an unprecedented act of political manipulation. And the two councilmembers accused of the above disrespectful workplace behavior were allowed to vote to table it.
The next night we had our CPVAW meeting where we moved to implore our mayor to re-agendize the censure of Councilmembers Krohn and Glover. Councilmember Krohn attended our meeting and when I pressed him as to why he did not ask the public in chambers to stop their victim shaming comments, he said, “I didn’t realize it was going on.”
Really. You've got to be kidding me. Watch the recording of the meeting again, please.
I grew up with domestic violence and sexual abuse, and I worried that I wouldn't be believed when I finally came forward. I was thankfully fully supported by my friends and family. But when I now witness my community publicly shame and blame victims who have bravely come forward, witness my community politicize the victims by calling their accusations false and discriminatory to be used against those accused, all the while enabled and empowered by the majority of our own city council, I'm deeply disappointed. All I have to do is put myself in Susie's shoes, with my daughters and wife by my side, listening to my community humiliate me by telling me to man up and move on. My resolve to always believe victims and help them heal, to hold those who have abused accountable, and to strive for greater awareness and prevention, has never been greater.
Join the City of Santa Cruz Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women (CPVAW) and the local Santa Cruz community for the 2nd annual free "awareness and prevention" symposium on Saturday, October 5, 2019, at the Louden Nelson Community Center from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.
The theme is again Transforming Together and we invite the entire Santa Cruz community -- women, men, and gender non-conforming citizens -- to come together in a collective effort to generate awareness and help prevent sexual harassment, domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual assault and rape, and respond more effectively when they do occur.