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Santa Rosa leaders diverge over hostile workplace inquiry


The day after the revelation that Santa Rosa Mayor Scott Bartley had filed a complaint accusing Councilman Gary Wysocky of creating a hostile work environment at City Hall, the two city leaders expressed sharply different views of the resulting investigation.

At the top of the City Council meeting Tuesday, Bartley said it is his obligation to uphold the city’s “zero-tolerance” harassment policy, while Wysocky derided the “trumped-up investigation” and “culture of secrecy” at City Hall.

Gary Wysocky (PD FILE)

Gary Wysocky (PD FILE)

The men were reacting to an article in The Press Democrat on Tuesday outlining the complaint Bartley filed following a heated argument Wysocky had with City Attorney Caroline Fowler in the tense days following the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a sheriff’s deputy who mistook his airsoft BB gun for an assault rifle.

Bartley said he could not discuss the complaint directly because it involves a confidential personnel matter. But he said all council members had received training in the city’s harassment policy and he and other members are required to uphold those standards.

“We must have a zero-tolerance policy for people regardless of their position who create hostile work environments and/or commit harassment,” Bartley said. “Our employees deserve nothing less than this.”

He added that he was forming a task force on open government and had asked Vice Mayor Robin Swinth and Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom to lead it.

Wysocky said Bartley, who reportedly overheard the exchange, never spoke to him about his argument with Fowler, but instead hired an outside attorney “at taxpayers’ expense” to conduct the investigation. Wysocky said he spoke to the attorney two weeks ago to schedule an interview but has yet to be given specifics of the complaint.

“Based on the newspaper article, it appears this investigation is related to my disagreement with the city attorney and what I regard as her efforts to censor council members’ First Amendment rights to speak out on behalf of the people who elected us, in this case as it related to the tragic death of a young boy,” Wysocky said.

He said he continues to disagree with Fowler on this and several other issues.

“As a democratic institution, the Santa Rosa City Council should be able to agree to disagree without these disagreements resulting in false charges and trumped-up investigations,” he said. “For the record, this complaint has no merit.”

He then went on to blast the city for a “culture of secrecy” and challenged the mayor, as a step toward greater transparency, to release the details of the complaint.

“The public deserves to know the truth, all of it, and they deserve a council that functions uncensored by fear tactics,” Wysocky said.

Councilwoman Julie Combs said she had a long list of questions she has submitted to City Manager Kathy Millison about the investigation and wanted to know when she would be getting answers.

Fowler told her she would get a response to her records request just like any other member of the public.

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

10 Responses to “Santa Rosa leaders diverge over hostile workplace inquiry”

  1. brown Act Jack says:

    when society gets so peaceful that people can get along then it is time for calmness in the chambers.

    But, when anger vents then things go wrong and trouble rears it head and people do stupid things.

    When the basic concept of the city council is to agree on every thing, we might as well elect the dogs and cats of the world to run the city.

    Dissention is the political norm, unless you run a dictatorship, which , perhaps, is the intent of the city council.

    You are never wrong if you are the dictator running the show.

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  2. RICHARD says:

    Something is rotten in Santa Rosa City Hall

    There is a serious lack of competent adult leadership in Santa Rosa City.

    When the people peaceably assembled to petition the government re Andy Lopez’s killing, what did the city leaders do ? The mayor, city manager and city attorney locked the doors turned out the light and went into hiding.

    Poor leadership, missing from action, dereliction of duty. They were delusionaly disconnected from reality.

    Council Member Wysocky joined the people. He was a calming influence. Many of the youngsters were upset and agitated. he advised them to be peaceful and respectful.

    It seems the mayor is embarrassed by his failure to lead and resents Wysocky for the leadership he showed. The mayor found an excuse to go after Wysocky and like a bully, the mayor, took it.

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  3. James Bennett says:

    To make things worse, the PD will be the City’s vicious lap dog against Wysocky once they turn on him.

    Which it would seem they have.

    Could this be an opportunity for Wysocky to ‘come out’ regarding local corruption?

    OK, that might be a little too much spine for him.

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  4. James Bennett says:

    Althoughw Wysocky is a Progressive, more than adherent to the Agenda, he has a spine.
    Sometimes he even steps out of line and thinks for himself (albeit, sometimes grandstanding for his own political gain).
    They want cronies that will keep their mouth shut and go with the program, whatever it is.
    The City can be vindictive, and Fowler is as tough as they come (that’s the nice way to say it).

    Good luck Gary.

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  5. Reality Check says:

    “Fowler told [Combs]she would get a response to her records request just like any other member of the public.”

    It’s been apparent for a while that Santa Rosa needed a new city attorney. And if the city manager let’s that response stand, then we need a new manager as well.

    These kinds of child-like squabbles are common in small towns. I thought Santa Rosa was large enough to attract a higher caliber of people for the council. Guess not.

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  6. ZERO Representation says:

    @ Arthur

    I agree to you to a point. These are elected officials that need to get to work.

    “Zero tolerance” establishes important boundaries. There are no age limits to bullies. However there are people that obviously take advantage of this policy.

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  7. PapaESoCo says:

    Well, seems to me that the root of the problems with SR City Council and City Attorney and City Manager is that forever the City Government has been fully owned, operated and beholden to one Socio/Economic Class; namely the Country Club/Garden Party folks. Nothing against these fine folks, except the lack of diversity on the Council. Do you think that Mayor Bartley has a clue as to the lives, problems, reality of folks who dwell in SW, NW,or SE Santa Rosa? Do you think any of these other clowns (Manager, Attorney, etc) have a clue? To these folks the Protest was like an alien invasion; hence their fearful, pearl clutching, reaction of shutting down the city government. To them, your neighborhood is foreign, you existence unknown. Go to yesterdays online PD and click on the city hall controversy; look at the picture of Bartley and the Attorney at some Garden Party function. Santa Rosa needs District Elections to provide a diversity of thought and opinion on the City Council. It is not just “liberals” as Mr. Diamond suggests, it is Class.

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  8. Open government in Santa Rosa? Not. says:

    I don’t get it.

    Mayor Bartley charges Councilmember Wysocky with ‘creating a hostile work environment’ on behalf of some unidentified complaint supposedly from City Attorney Fowler.

    This was instead of Fowler filing any written complaint. This was instead of Fowler discussing any possible problems in closed session with the council. This was instead of asking for a mediated conversation with Councilmember Wysocky and, say, the city’s human resources director.

    But Bartley and Fowler now refuse to provide any details or copy of the complaint or allegations to Councilmember Wysocky, no less to the rest of the Council members, no less to the public?

    Then Bartley makes charges in public to the PD and elsewhere, and says, ‘no comment’ on his claims!

    And Bartley – apparently without Council discussion or authorization, in closed or in public session, chooses to spend public funds to hire an attorney to “investigate” his secret charges.

    How can Bartley spend taxpayer money to hire an outside attorney without council discussion and consent? Who gave him the right to do that?

    And this is, apparently, ‘cuz Wysocky has wanted to talk to the public about discrepancies in public contracts, and wants to talk to the public about the tragic shooting of Andy Lopez, but in both cases Fowler tried to gag the entire Council.

    Talk about “creating a hostile work environment” — for Councilman Wysocky!

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  9. Kirstin says:

    Mr. Mayor,

    It is not harassment for a city council member to have a talk of disagreement with a member of the city government, as I’m sure you know. And even if there were a case in which someone, or more than one person, became heated or whatever (and I’m pointing fingers at anyone), surely the situation can be worked out amongst the participants without a bureaucratic “investigation” involving expensive outside attorneys. You are adults. it is up to you to uphold the principle of open government (and we have not been seeing enough of that). It is up to you to recognize that there can (and should be) different viewpoints, and expressing them does not constitute harassment or lack of cooperation. Please get on with the real business of government and end the time- and money-wasting efforts of artificial charges against colleagues.

    Finally, doesn’t a city council member have the right to ask the city attorney for answers (which should, of course, be shared with the entire council — and the public)? Why does the city attorney say that Ms. Combs is going to be answered as any other member of the public. I’m not suggesting that council members are better than the rest of Santa Rosa, but it seems that a council member’s questions should be answered as quickly as possible. After all, the city council oversees the city attorney and must know what is going on in that office, just as in any other city office. That is the council’s right and duty.

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  10. Arthur Diamond says:

    I for one am sick of this “zero tolerance” nonsense the left has developed for anything they don’t like. Hostile work environment, please. Giving somebody a poor job evaluation could be construed as a hostile work environment by the poor employee.

    All of the politically correct way of doing things just shows how really, truly small the left really is.

    We supposedly elected adults to government and they are suppose to put adults in as city attorneys and city managers. If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen a former president once said.

    Stop wasting taxpayers time and money and start doing your jobs for once, but that is asking too much from this lot of immature little minds holding these well paid public jobs.

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