Sex harassment policy changing in Petersburg

Friday, June 19, 2009

PETERSBURG -- A state official is revising a proposed personnel handbook for the town, including an expanded policy on sexual harassment, based on comments during a special town board meeting this week.

Sexual harassment was alleged last fall and winter when the town recorder saw an image of Sara Palin's face superimposed above a topless woman's torso. The image was on an alderman's cell phone. A lawsuit in federal court has been filed complaining the alderman's removal for alleged sexual harassment is a violation of his constitutional right to free speech.

Don Darden of the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service attended 90 minutes of the board's Monday night meeting to review the six pages he provided to update the town's two-paragraph policy on sexual harassment.

"The goal is to have a policy ... that everybody can understand," Darden said. "If there is an allegation, everybody should know what to do."

In most state and local government settings, sexual harassment complaints must be filed in writing within a certain time of the alleged incident. Other municipalities in Middle Tennessee have discovered that failure to document such events, regardless of the preferences of the people involved, might result in a conclusion of mismanagement, thereby leaving the government, or a department leader, subject to other risks.

The sexual harassment part of the employee's handbook was one of several topics raised by Alderman Brad Dillenback. Others included public safety, audits, state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administrations, an employee grievance procedure, pay issues, including the number of hours in a work week, and employee holidays.

Also Monday, the board decided to have the city help resolve a driveway culvert problem. The annual budget was also discussed.