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Updated Jul 3, 2012, 11:37 am Originally posted Jul 3, 2012, 10:49 am
City Councilman Paul Cunningham's behavior toward a trio to female city employees while on a May junket was sexual harassment, said a city report released Tuesday.
Two of the women told investigators that Cunningham also made inappropriate comments toward them on prior occasions at non-city events, the report said.
Cunningham admitted in a statement Tuesday to "acting unprofessionally and making inappropriate comments" during the fact-finding trip sponsored by Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, but did not mention sexual harassment.
Cunningham acknowledged to investigators that his behavior "could be construed" as harassment, the report by the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs said. Cunningham described his behavior as "banter" to investigators, the report said, but "that he could understand the potential future impact on his working relationship" with the women.
The report recommended sexual harassment training be conducted in City Council offices. Because Cunningham is an elected official, there is no disciplinary action possible under city regulations.
The OEOP investigation was ordered last month by City Attorney Mike Rankin after word of Cunningham's behavior was reported by TucsonSentinel.com and other news organizations.
The office interviewed 15 people who witnessed or had personal knowledge of Cunningham's sexually-charged remarks to three city employees while drinking at a hotel bar in San Diego during the TREO trip.
According to the report:
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The witness interviews confirmed that on the first day of the trip, May 16th, during an evening event, the Councilmember engaged the three female staff members in conversation in the patio area of the hotel bar, that was inappropriate, graphic and sexual in nature. The comments included those of a sexual nature that were specifically directed at two of the women. There were no reported allegations of inappropriate physical contact between the Councilmember and these individuals.
Witnesses confirmed that the Councilmember had consumed large amounts of alcohol throughout the late afternoon during an earlier gathering and that he continued drinking heavily during the evening events. His demeanor was described as loud and boisterous. One of the females who was specifically targeted by the sexually suggestive comments reported that she told the Councilmember that she was offended and that she got up and walked away when he continued with his comments. The other two women described his comments as offensive and unprofessional. They remained in the area, citing that they felt is was their obligation as representatives of the City of Tucson to contain his behavior to that particular area in the patio so as not to allow himn to offend or expose other guests to his comments and inappropriate behavior.
Witnesses reported that they had observed the interaction between the Councilmember and the women, and that it was apparent that the one female staff member who walked away was visibly offended by the comments and his behavior.
A group of 37 city and county staffers and business leaders were on the three-day trip, which was sponsored by TREO 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.
Sources told TucsonSentinel.com that 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.
The OEOP report did not identify the women involved, or which alleged Cunningham behaved inappropriately on prior occasions.
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.
From the city report:
There were no reports of similar incidents for the remainder of the trip. However, two of the women stated in their interviews that they had experienced similar comments and behavior directed at them from the Councilmember on prior occasions during non-city sanctioned events. Both stated that the behavior was unwelcome and that they had verbally indicated such to the Councilmember. In both instances, the women reported that Councilmember Cunningham appeared to have been intoxicated.
Several current and former members of the Councilmember's staff were interviewed for purposes of the investigation to determine if any similar conduct had occurred with members of his staff. No instances of inappropriate conduct were reported during the interviews.
From the report:
During his interview with the OEOP, Councilmember Cunningham recalled some of the statements he made to the women, but described them as "banter." He stated that the discussion started as business related and led to personal issues, acknowledging that the remarks were "of a sexual nature to some degree."
When questioned about sever of the specific statements that were made of a sexual nature describing one of the female's bodies, he stated that due to his intoxicated state, he could not recall having made the statement. He stated that he had no intent to offend the women, further acknowledging that he used poor judgement in the situation.
Councilmember Cunningham stated that he could understand the potential future impact on his working relationship with these particular women due to their position within the organization and the frequent interactions between council offices and city staff.
In May, Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said that she told Cunningham he should think about stepping down.
"I did suggest to him that he think about resignation as an option," she said on May 29.
"I don't have full or direct knowledge" of what happened, Uhlich said then. "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.
Uhlich was joined by Councilwoman Regina Romero, who also avoided a direct call for Cunningham's resignation, but said she had concerns that Cunningham "is not going to be effective in his job."
Neither Uhlich nor Romero, both Democrats like Cunningham, immediately responded for requests to comment on the report Tuesday.
Republican Councilman Steve Kozachik said Tuesday that Cunningham has "a treatable medical condition. That's what alcoholism is."
While Cunningham only "gets one bite at the apple," Kozachik said the East Side Democrat "recognizes he made a bad mistake."
"I'm not going to play politics" by suggesting Cunningham resign, Kozachik said. "I wish him the best, and hope he gets it under control."
The report called for training on the city's sexual harassment policies for councilmembers and their staffs, including: