By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Santa Rosa City Council released a previously confidential investigative report into the behavior of Councilman Gary Wysocky on Tuesday and took steps toward censuring him for conduct an investigator determined was disrespectful to Mayor Scott Bartley and city staff.
The move is the latest chapter in the monthslong political drama over complaints filed against Wysocky by Bartley and City Attorney Caroline Fowler over Wysocky’s conduct in the tense days following the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy.
Bartley called the release of the full report necessary because Wysocky already has selectively released information that jeopardized the report’s confidentiality and created an inaccurate picture of what transpired and the report’s conclusions.
“The damage is done,” Bartley said. “I say put it out there and let the public see what we’ve been talking about.”
Wysocky, who is running for Sonoma County auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector in the June 3 election, denounced the report as unfair. He said the investigator misled him about the scope of the inquiry and that it was not transparent, citing heavy redactions. He demanded more time to review the report before its release and said he is “reserving my legal options.”
“It’s such a soap opera for our city,” Wysocky said. “This has gone far beyond the tragedy of Andy Lopez and our reaction to it.”
Immediately following the decision, the city released the report, authored by attorney Morin Jacob of the San Francisco firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore. Nine of the 31 pages are fully blacked out with many others containing substantial redactions. Three letters from Jacob, to Wysocky, Bartley and Fowler, are also included, though Fowler’s is completely blacked out.
The report focuses on interactions Wysocky had with city staff and Bartley on Oct. 28 and 29. A march was planned for downtown Santa Rosa on Oct. 29.
It is clear Wysocky took issue with Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips’ Oct. 28 decision to lock the doors of City Hall at noon Oct. 29, while employees continued working and public meetings went forward.
The following day, City Manager Kathy Millison, based on new information about the protests, changed course and opted instead to close City Hall at noon and cancel both a noon meeting and the 4 p.m. City Council meeting.
City staff tried to leave messages for Wysocky, but he apparently didn’t get them and arrived by bicycle at City Hall “very irritated” and “noticeably angry,” according to one witness, whose name is redacted.
He apparently expressed displeasure to Bartley about not being informed of the change earlier. One witness described both men as “quite agitated.” Bartley then said something to Wysocky about having a “personal issue” with something or someone that is redacted.
“Mr. Bartley stated that this comment elevated Mr. Wysocky’s anger to another level with Mr. Bartley,” the report states.
Wysocky shot back with “That’s unfair. How dare you say things like that?” according to the report.
Bartley said he then apologized to Wysocky, citing the stress everyone was under, according to the report.
Wysocky then had a behind-closed-doors discussion with Fowler, a meeting the report indicates he initiated. The two were alone in the mayor’s conference room, next to Bartley’s office. The entire section of the report that presumably deals with the ensuing argument is blacked out.
But the report finds it was Wysocky who raised his voice first, a conclusion Wysocky denies.
An email exchange between Wysocky and Fowler that describes Wysocky’s version of events was also released Tuesday. In it he says Fowler “confronted” him at City Hall and “the things you said to me and the manner in which you said those things is very troubling.”
He wrote that he was “dismayed” with her tone of voice. “Raising your voice to me, or any other councilperson, is unacceptable, period.” He also called her statements “unacceptable and unprofessional.”
Wysocky says in the email that Fowler accused him of “making inflammatory statements to the press,” leaking Fowler’s memo about not speaking about the Lopez shooting to the press, “playing to your political agenda” and “grandstanding.”
Fowler responded that the statements were “inaccurate and incomplete.” She declined further comment Tuesday.
Wysocky, who had previously acknowledged that the argument was “heated” and “emotional,” reiterated Tuesday evening that it was Fowler who was unprofessional.
“She raised her voice at me, whether they could hear it or not, and she stuck her finger right in my face,” Wysocky said. “She was disrespectful to a council member just like she was disrespectful in the meeting prior.”
He was referring to a prior council meeting where Fowler cut Wysocky off as he was trying to ask questions about what could and could not be disclosed about closed-door discussions with the city’s labor negotiator.
Jacob’s report sustained three charges against Wysocky: that he was aggressive and/or disrespectful to city staff, Bartley and Fowler in violation of the council’s code of conduct. Wysocky has previously said that a second claim by Fowler that he retaliated against her comments in The Press Democrat was not sustained, though that that section of the report is blacked out.
Wysocky said he was led to believe that Jacob was only looking into the late October incidents, but in fact she interviewed people about issues going back years, he said.
That had effectively left him without the chance to defend himself.
In some instances, staff complained about his aggressive style of questioning. One person interviewed described his behavior toward staff as “bullying” that had “gone on too long.”
Wysocky, a CPA, offered no apologies for asking tough questions of city staff, saying that’s what voters expect of him.
“When they can’t answer legitimate questions about the city’s finances, am I supposed to say ‘Thank you very much, good job?,’” he said.
Council members, who voted 4-2 to release the report, were clearly torn by the decision. Wysocky and Councilwoman Julie Combs voted against its release, calling the report incomplete.
Jake Ours supported the release, saying “everyone needs to know what’s going on here, not just little bits of it.” He said he found Wysocky’s threat of a lawsuit ironic, “particularly from someone who is flying the transparency flag.”
Combs, a Wysocky ally, said she felt “so sandbagged, almost straitjacketed” because she was prevented, because of the narrow way the agenda item was written, from discussing issues such as the amount of money the city had spent to date on the investigation and the impartiality of Jacobs, whose firm is on retainer with the city.
“I have real concern when we have a witch hunt that is barreling along the way this one is,” Combs said.
But after the vote to release the report, it was Councilwoman Robin Swinth who came down hardest on Wysocky, calling for staff to bring back a motion censuring him.
That’s a public rebuke that county supervisors have not seen fit to give their colleague Efren Carrillo, who has been under fire after being acquitted of attempting to peek into a neighbor’s window while wearing only his underwear and socks at 3 a.m. last July.
Swinth also called for motions reaffirming the code of conduct for council members, condemning harassment, discrimination and retaliation, and to have public training for the council members in their prevention and effective communication. It was unclear when such motions would be brought back before the council.
Wysocky said it was “really disappointing” that Swinth read her request from a prepared statement, suggesting she hadn’t been open-minded during the meeting. But she said she felt it was her duty to make her request.
“I owe it to this community, I owe it to this city government, I owe it to our staff to bring this resolution for consideration. So don’t lecture me here,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or email@example.com. On Twitter @citybeater.