Calumet City is struggling to heal after a nasty election and series of painful incidents, but a proposed sexual harassment policy is like rubbing salt in fresh wounds.
Politics can be like blood sport in the community of 35,000 people, and the April 4 election was no exception. Residents and voters were once again subjected to ugly accusations and scurrilous allegations through a series of robocalls, text messages, social media posts and other campaign materials.
“Residents are very upset about the way things are going,” resident Sherry Lucas said during public comment at a City Council meeting Thursday night. “They blew my phone up. This was the worst election I’ve ever seen. I’m pleading to you guys, I hope we can all come together. The residents are suffering.”
Tasha Holloway, another resident, said she also is tired of local politicians hurling mean messages at each other.
“I believe it’s time for this to stop,” Holloway said. “I feel harassed by all the chaos. The election is over with. I just want to have peace.”
A similar kerfuffle in Calumet City occurred a year ago, when 2nd Ward Ald. Monet Wilson challenged Mayor Thaddeus Jones in the Democratic primary for the 29th District state representative seat that Jones has held since 2011. Jones received about 80% of the vote to Wilson’s 20%.
In that contest, Jones denied being the source of insulting text messages that called Wilson “Miss Piggy.”
Wilson recently objected to a proposed ordinance that calls for elected officials to report allegations of sexual harassment to the mayor, or to the senior member of the City Council if the mayor is the subject of a complaint. The senior council member would notify the city attorney, according to the proposed policy.
“Reports of sexual harassment will be confidential to the greatest extent possible,” according to the proposed ordinance.
“I formally request that the voting members of the Calumet City Council vote NO to the sexual harassment ordinance on the agenda,” Wilson wrote in a letter to city clerk Nyota Figgs, asking that her comments be placed in the record.
“The failure in this ordinance is that sexual harassment should be reported to an outside party and not a political peer or an attorney that works and is paid by the city,” Wilson wrote.
Wilson is absolutely correct in that regard. The council voted unanimously Thursday to table the ordinance and to refer it to a council committee for further study. Alds. Michael Navarrete and DeJuan Gardner were absent, and Jones said Wilson abruptly left the meeting when the council began an hour long executive session after public comments.
A policy that enshrines secrecy and designates top elected officials to receive allegations of misconduct sounds like a potential disaster for taxpayers. It reminds me of the Catholic Church’s methods for handling clergy who sexually abused children.
The policy should treat Calumet City’s elected officials that same way the city treats police officers, firefighters, public works staff and other employees. Best practices in today’s world typically direct employees to report alleged sexual harassment to a human resources professional.
Calumet City’s proposed policy is absurd. Incredibly, it calls for an elected official who is experiencing alleged sexual harassment to confront the person committing the harassment.
“If the elected official feels comfortable doing so, he or she should directly inform the harassing individual that the individual’s conduct or communication is offensive and must stop immediately,” according to the policy.
I cannot believe that in 2023 a municipality would even consider such a policy. Given the outrageous nature of the proposal, I could understand if Wilson was too upset to confront Jones and Williams, the senior alderman, in executive session.
I was copied on emails Wilson sent Wednesday to council members. She attached screen shots that purportedly were of recent text messages that again called her “Miss Piggy.” Wilson wrote that she considered the messages a threat to herself and her children and requested security.
“I do not feel safe!” Wilson wrote. “I clearly have a stalker.”
Jones copied me on his reply to Wilson and council members.
“Alderwoman, this is [sic] gone on too long with your lies and accusations!” Jones wrote. “Please grow up as you are in politics and there are a lot of people who don’t like your lies, accusations and ‘everyone is after me’ constant routine!”
Jones and Williams publicly addressed concerns raised by residents. Jones wore a neck brace and said he was in serious pain following a recent vehicle collision. He needed surgery to repair torn tendons and a rotator cuff, he said.
“Elections happen. We don’t control those elections or the tenor of those elections,” Jones said. “Let’s work through the issues together and I agree, we do have to change the tenor and we will but let’s look at the positive things your city is doing for you and your community.”
I obtained copies of other messages city officials recently received from Wilson, in which she expressed concerns that members of the fire department were politically motivated to smear her.
Several firefighters were present Thursday when a new firefighter was sworn in and two others were honored for heroism by volunteering for a dangerous operation that involved recovering a body in January from a ledge 300 feet above the floor of a quarry in Thornton.
The council also thanked first responders for their professionalism in responding to the recent fatal shooting of a 5-year-old boy in Calumet City.
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“I think everybody should take a deep breath and look at the undertone of some of these things,” Williams said. “The text messages, the emails, I think you should look at those for what they really are. Look at the source of where they come from.”
Williams said he was the subject of harassment during the recent campaign, then he appeared to refer to Wilson’s allegation that she was subjected to a political attack from firefighters.
“My family’s character was assassinated. I’m highly upset about that,” Williams said. “But I’ll take the shot and I will move forward. Our public safety department was accused of one of the most disrespectful allegations that I’ve ever heard. The fire department. Who hates the fire department?”
There are a lot of unknowns right now in Calumet City. Who sent harassing text messages to public officials? To what extent did political robocalls and other campaigning cross a line?
About the only thing that seems certain is that there is a lot of pain in Calumet City at the moment.
Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.