Panel to Investigate Councilmember Huizar for Discrimination, not Harassment or Retaliation

2018 Editions Featured Front Page October

by T. A. Hendrickson

On Oct. 2, the spokesperson for the City Personnel Department, Bruce Whidden, said he had erred in September when he stated that a complaint filed against Mr. Huizar dealt with allegations of harassment, discrimination and retaliation. Responding to questions from the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Whidden said that the personnel department’s letter reporting the complaint to the City Council president mentioned only discrimination.

Mr. Whidden also said he had been incorrect when he stated that the personnel department began processing the complaint against Mr. Huizar in early September, shortly before reporting the complaint to the City Council president on Sept. 13. His revised explanation, also reported by the L.A. Times on Oct. 2, is that department employees began processing the complaint in late June and that it should have been reported to the City Council president much sooner than it was.

The personnel department’s timing in handling the complaint against Mr. Huizar has drawn scrutiny, in part because such complaints are supposed to be handled quickly and partly because the department informed the City Council president of the complaint on the same day that Richelle Huizar, Mr. Huizar’s wife, announced she would run for her husband’s City Council seat when he is termed out in 2020.

She Launches Her Campaign. He Faces a Harassment Complaint
by T. A. Hendrickson

Posted Sept 29:  Richelle Huizar, the wife of NELA City Councilmember José Huizar, announced on Sept. 13 that she would run for her husband’s City Council seat when he is termed out in 2020. 

That same day, the City Personnel Office informed City Council President Herb Wesson that Mr. Huizar was the subject of a complaint alleging harassment, discrimination and retaliation. A day later, Mr. Wesson called for a special panel to investigate the complaint. The city code does not require that the convening of a special investigative panel be announced publicly. But the Los Angeles Times broke the story about the complaint and the investigation on Sept. 20. 

The most important thing now is for a thorough and even-handed investigation.  

But meanwhile, Ms. Huizar will be challenged to keep the public’s attention on her campaign. A lawyer by training and an advocate for youth, women and families, she launched her bid for elected office with a focus on homelessness, affordable housing and other pressing problems. The complaint against Mr. Huizar has taken the spotlight off of her and her agenda and put it on him and the complaint. 

The Boulevard Sentinel emailed the City Personnel Department to understand how it came to pass that the allegation against Mr. Huizar was communicated to Mr. Wesson, the City Council President, on the same day that Ms. Huizar announced her candidacy for the CD14 seat.

Bruce Whidden, the spokesperson for the City Personnel Department, replied that the complaint against Mr. Huizar was filed on June 20, 2018 on MyVoiceLA, a new website for City workers to report sexual harassment and other workplace abuse. But, he wrote, the personnel department did not identify the filing as actual complaint that needed to be addressed until Sept. 3. 

The delay came about because the complaint was filed while MyVoiceLA was still in the testing phase, during which City employees were asked to file “test” complaints. Unfortunately, a few actual complaints were also filed during the testing phase, before any tracking system was in place to identify and act upon them. “In a very real sense, we were flying the plane while still building it,” wrote Mr. Whidden

  After MyVoiceLA went live, the Personnel Department realized its mistake and initiated procedures to address the complaint. They identified and contacted the person who had filed the complaint and then informed Mr. Wesson, the City Council President – all of which took until Sept. 13. 

The investigative panel called by Mr. Wesson will be the second such panel convened to look into a harassment allegation against Mr. Huizar. The first panel, in 2013, found no evidence of harassment, according to an excerpt of the panel’s findings obtained by the L.A. Times  in 2014. In that investigation, Mr. Huizar’s accuser, Francine Godoy, his former Deputy Chief of Staff, refused to be interviewed, saying the process was tainted. In 2015, Mr. Huizar privately settled a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by Ms. Godoy.  

The special investigative panel must be made up of two former judges, one male and one female, two law school professors, one male and one female and one member of the American Arbitration Association. 

On Sept. 20, the day of the L.A. Times story on the new complaint, Mr. Huizar said in a prepared statement that he did not know any details of the complaint and therefore could not comment. He said that he and his staff take great pains to conduct City business in a professional, respectful way and given that level of care, he was “confounded under what basis anyone would have to file a legitimate complaint.” On Sept. 26, the Boulevard Sentinel followed up with Mr. Huizar’s office, asking if he had since learned any details of the complaint and if he had any additional comment. His spokesperson said that Mr. Huizar had nothing to add to his initial statement. 

Going forward, Mr. Whidden said the special investigative panel “will take all the time it needs to see that all parties, the complainant and the accused, receive due process in a full and fair investigation.”

Looking back, he said that the Personnel Department “regrets” and “takes full responsibility” for the delay in identifying and responding to the complaint, adding “You may be assured; such a situation will never be repeated.” 

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