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Updated May 29, 2012, 8:05 pm
Sexual comments allegedly made by Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham while on a junket in San Diego two weeks ago have sparked one colleague to suggest he consider resigning.
Cunningham used suggestive language and made sexual comments to at least one female city staffer after a delegation of Tucson political and business leaders had spent several hours drinking at a bar at an upscale Torrey Pines resort, sources said.
Some of those who were present were angered by his behavior, sources said.
Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said Tuesday that she called her fellow Democrat and told him that he should think about stepping down.
"I did suggest to him that he think about resignation as an option," she said.
"I don't have full or direct knowledge" of what happened, Uhlich said. "I've only heard things second, third, fifth-hand."
The councilwoman said she had not spoken to anyone who was present about the allegations.
She stopped short of an overt call for Cunningham to resign, saying that she didn't think that was appropriate.
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"I will be suggesting that we (the City Council) have a discussion" about the allegations, she said. "We all need to hear from him."
Cunningham did not return repeated phone calls on Tuesday. Speaking on Friday, he declined to elaborate on his behavior.
A group of about 40 city and county staffers and business leaders were on the three-day trip two weeks ago, which was sponsored by Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, an economic development group that is funded by the city and county. The trip was focused on looking at successful projects in the San Diego area.
On May 16, the first day of the junket, Cunningham and a group of others on the trip spent the evening drinking in a bar, witnesses said.
The councilman allegedly made several suggestive comments to a high-ranking female city worker, in the presence of other women employed by the city.
Sources said Cunningham commented on the weight and sex appeal of one staffer, and invited her up to his room — a remark that some present took as a joke, while others were offended.
The councilman also unsuccessfully asked staffers and others, both male and female, to accompany him to a strip club, sources said.
Cunningham and many others on the junket were intoxicated at the time of the incident, sources said.
Those present who spoke to TucsonSentinel.com about the details of the incident declined to be identified. We are not identifying the women allegedly involved, as they would not return calls and no official complaint has been provided.
Among those on the trip were Assistant City Manager Kelly Gottschalk; the mayor's business advocate, Maricela Solis; city economic development manager Debra Chandler; Councilwoman Shirley Scott; the CEO of trip sponsor TREO, Joe Snell; attorney Keri Silvyn and Providence Service Corp. CEO Fletcher McCusker. Also on the trip were Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson and County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild did not return several phone calls requesting comment. He told the Arizona Daily Star that the matter had been referred to the City Attorney's Office.
City spokesman Michael Graham said Friday that no complaint has been filed against Cunningham, and reiterated that on Tuesday.
"I'd like to know what the charges are," Cunningham said on Friday. "I've been in the work force for 20 years" without anyone making a sexual harassment charge, he said.
Rumors about the trip and his behavior are being spread by people "who don't know what is true and what is not true," he said.
"I've not been informed of any complaint being filed by anyone," he said Friday.
Uhlich said Tuesday that the Cunningham needs "to determine if he can be effective."
Although Uhlich and Cunningham are both Democrats, they have not always agreed on policy questions.
There is no process to remove a councilmember for the sort of misconduct alleged against Cunningham, Uhlich said. As elected officials, councilmembers aren't governed by the same Human Resources rules as other city employees.
Uhlich said she would ask that a discussion of a code of conduct for mayor and council be on the agenda for next Tuesday's City Council meeting.
The councilwoman said she wants City Attorney Mike Rankin to investigate the matter and report to the Council.
Rankin, who has been traveling, did not return phone calls Friday or Tuesday.
Cunningham's other colleagues on the council have been cautious in their response.
"I've heard rumors," Councilwoman Regina Romero said Friday.
"I'd like to see a process happen" to determine the truth, she said.
"I don't think I would tolerate that type of behavior from anyone. I wouldn't tolerate it from an employee, I wouldn't tolerate it from a colleague," she said.
"What I've heard, I don't think that's good behavior," Romero said.
While she stopped short of calling for Cunningham to step down, Romero said Friday that she has concerns that Cunningham "is not going to be effective in his job."
If the 38-year-old Cunningham were to resign, his Ward 2 seat would be filled by an appointee chosen by the Council.
Before being elected in his own right last year, Cunningham was himself appointed in 2010 to fill the seat vacated when Rodney Glassman resigned to run for the U.S. Senate.
Although the vote to appoint him was unanimous, Uhlich had quietly pushed for the appointment of another of the 11 applicants for the post: home healthcare company owner Judy Clinco.