By PHILIP RILEY
Petaluma Mayor David Glass, shortly before being elected to the city’s top public office in November 2010, angrily confronted a female city employee and high-ranking union official in City Hall about her union’s role in the election. The confrontation prompted the employee to file a harassment complaint with the city about the distress Glass had caused her, and the incident was subsequently investigated by human resources officials, according to public records recently obtained by the Argus-Courier.
The incident occurred on Oct. 29, the Friday before the Nov. 2 election. Glass, who was vice mayor at the time, said he came to City Hall that morning to turn in campaign finance reports required in his bid for mayor. Although City Hall was mostly empty that day due to ongoing furloughs, one witness reported that Glass “appeared angry” as he headed to the office of the union member.
The employee’s name was redacted in human resources documents provided by the city, but multiple sources have identified her as Deborah Padovan, assistant city clerk and then-vice president of the largest union for non-public safety city workers.
Padovan reported that Glass came into her office at 11:50 a.m. and began speaking to her in an “angry tone.”
“This campaign is not going well. It is not going well out there. And I blame you and the unions for making it ugly,” Glass told Padovan, according to her testimony in city documents. “You are allowed to do things during the campaign and I don’t like it. I am very disappointed in all the city employees for acting this way and I am telling you so you can get the word out. I do not like how this election is going, and it is your fault.”
Padovan reported that Glass’ tone and demeanor made her feel unsafe and anxious. Soon after the encounter, which lasted less than five minutes, Padovan and Katie Crump, an executive assistant to the city manager who was also working that day, both sent e-mails to city and union officials reporting the incident.
“I felt threatened and vulnerable, especially knowing that I was in a building that was officially closed and there were no other employees around within earshot to help me if I needed it,” Padovan explained in the e-mail. “I began to shake uncontrollably afterward due to the anger and vehemence that was directed toward me.”
Padovan went on to say that she “started experiencing stomach cramps for the remainder of the afternoon” and made an appointment to see an employee counselor. “On Saturday, I was still physically and emotionally upset at what occurred and received calls of support from my AFSCME and COPE board members,” she wrote.
Padovan became president of AFSCME Local 675 in December, and was in line for the position at the time of the incident. AFSCME, short for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, represents city administrative workers.
Padovan’s union, along with police and fire unions, were active during and prior to the November elections under the title Coalition of Petaluma Employees. In an unprecedented campaign, they went door-to-door and bought ads and billboards supporting Jeff Mayne, Glass’ opponent in the mayor’s race, as well as other candidates seen as more business-oriented. The unions argued that the council had failed to quickly approve development projects to build revenue and protect their jobs.
Padovan later told human resources officials that she feared that Glass could become angry and recommend elimination of her position or “retaliate” in other ways. The City Council is set to vote on cost-cutting measures soon, and rumors of layoffs have circulated due to the city’s budget situation.
After meeting with human resources officials, Padovan said that she would accept a written apology from Glass as a way to resolve the matter. She received a letter from Glass dated Dec. 13, and in a Jan. 6 e-mail human resources officials stated that matter had been handled internally and was considered closed.
Padovan and Crump declined to comment when reached Tuesday, while City Manager John Brown did not return calls for comment.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Glass apologized for the incident and the distress that he had caused Padovan.
“I am truly sorry. I am human and I make mistakes and I am not perfect,” he said.
Glass explained that he had sought to speak to Padovan in order to set up a meeting with union members, but that his frustration with the election came to a head.
“I’m a human. Do I get angry? Yeah, I get angry sometimes,” he said.
Glass said that he was “scared” by the political rhetoric of the election season, especially following the controversial mailer linking supervisor candidate Pam Torliatt’s “sanctuary” stance to a murder by an illegal immigrant.
“On a personal basis, was I churning with what was going on in this town? Absolutely. I was actually scared that we were on the tip of what did transpire in Tucson,” he said, referring to the Jan. 8 shooting of a congresswoman and 18 others in Arizona.
“On that particular day, it reached a crescendo,” he said about his frustration.
Glass had met with city unions earlier in his campaign, and although he did not receive their endorsement, he said he approached Padovan to meet them again after learning that police and fire unions had listed city phone lines on contact forms for their organizations. Glass waited until after the election to broach the topic in public, which he claimed was an ethical issue. Union leaders said the phone listings were a mistake and a later state ethics board investigation found no violations by the unions.
Glass said that the phone listings and other campaign issues were “playing inside my mind” when he went to see Padovan.
“I wanted to let (unions) know where I was coming from (and) talk with them. I wish I’d have done it differently, obviously,” he said.
Glass said that his comments were not meant to address or limit city employees’ rights to campaign and endorse candidates — in this case, his opponent. “It has nothing to do with (their endorsement of) Jeff Mayne,” he said.
Glass said he did not feel that he acted overly hostile and dismissed claims from some employees that he has a hot temper or has clashed with city employees extensively.
“I’ve had people say that I’m ‘angry,’” he said. “I’m not ‘angry.’”
“I like the employees that are in that building. They may not like me. I like them,” said Glass, who added that he may have appeared more upset than he was because he was talking loudly and was not wearing his hearing aid.
Soon after the incident, union members decided not to bring the confrontation to light, partly out of fear of retribution.
“Could we have pushed to make this a big spectacle? Absolutely, but it wasn’t in the best interest of the POA,” said Paul Gilman, president of the Peace Officers Association of Petaluma.
“It was up to the individual (involved) on what was going to happen,” said an AFSCME member who wished to remain anonymous.
However, among some union members, “it was felt that something (more) should have been done, because the best indicator of an individual’s future behavior is their past behavior,” said the AFSCME member. “It was just looked at as ‘how much trouble do we want to make for ourselves down the line?’”
The member added that the news “will cause trouble for us. It will definitely affect his judgment.”
“If Deborah had anything to say on the matter, we definitely would have listened and tried to assist her in any way,” said Gilman. “We want this to move beyond a bitter election season,” he added.
Both Glass and union members said that they now consider the issue closed and are willing to work together.
“I personally feel that his comments were inappropriate, but he’s human and everyone makes mistakes,” said Martin Learn, president of the Petaluma Firefighters Local 1415 union.
Learn said that unless similar incidents arise, “We’re not interested in any way in exploiting a mistake.”
“We’ve had a good working relationship all along,” Glass said about Padovan. “I think that we do now. I think that we will continue to have a good working relationship.”