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Detroit report highlights friction on City Council

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Detroit – A councilor whose interactions with members was highlighted in an internal investigation urges ways to improve the panel’s relationships and complaint handling.

In a memo on Friday to Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and the directors of the city’s Civil Rights and Inclusion Bureau and Human Resources, Councilor Raquel Castañeda-López urged them to provide immediate training on harassment and discrimination in the workplace. sexual harassment; unconscious and implicit bias; as well as diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I believe that any concerns about hostility, intimidation and / or discrimination in the workplace should be taken seriously and addressed immediately,” she wrote.

The councilor said after a vote on a contract on Jan. 26, her office had “received notices expressing frustration at online harassment due to the vote and belief that my office was in part responsible for inciting.” Vitriol and cyberbullying was responsible, “she wrote.

“These claims in themselves foster a culture of intimidation, hostility and fear. Unfortunately, this is not the first time my office has seen this type of interaction from my colleagues. Both my team and myself have experienced various forms of hostility and intimidation in the workplace experienced since his election in 2014. “

Her memo came more than a year after the city’s Civil Rights Inclusion and Opportunities Division released a report after Jones asked to address allegations of intimidation and a hostile work environment among council members and allegations of discrimination .

The results were published on September 16, 2019. The Detroit News requested a copy of the report in October at the Freedom of Information Act request and received it last week.

The concerns identified in the report focus on budgetary considerations in spring 2019. The burden of the process “led to some awkward situations and interpersonal conflicts,” the report said.

“In this cocktail mix of factors, there was tension among the city council members

increased “, they say.

The office interviewed the entire council, a member of the council’s executive protection department, mayor’s liaison officer and parliamentarian, and reviewed camera footage from meetings held between March and April 2019.

Detroit City Councilor Scott Benson delivers a speech during the official opening of Flex-N-Gate Detroit.

The aim of the investigation was to determine whether there was intimidation and a hostile work environment among the members resulting from multiple interpersonal conflicts.

In one case, Councilor Scott Benson sat next to Castañeda-López during a budget hearing. According to the report, he couldn’t see past her and after several attempts to adjust his seat, Benson was still unable to gain a clear view.

“Councilor Benson put his hand on Councilor Castañeda-López’s arm, signaling that he would like her to move slightly so he can see past her. This did not have the desired effect that he intended,” it said the report. “Instead of moving her seat, Councilor Castañeda-López was offended because Councilor Benson touched her arm. She viewed this as an attack …”

She called on a member of the law enforcement officers to intervene. He told her it was not an attack and urged Benson “not to touch her in the future,” according to the report, which stated that Benson was again offended and viewed the claim as overreacting and culturally insensitive .

Benson told The News Saturday that the claims were “false and dangerous”.

“There is a story in the United States where black men were falsely accused of assault. As a result of these false allegations, they were murdered, maimed and acted ungodly. I am extremely sensitive to these allegations,” he said.

“I just thank God that these false allegations were instantly on the tape and that the allegations were made at a public meeting so that these allegations could be seen for what they were … false and a dangerous and reckless use of the system. “”

In another incident, Castañeda-López was embroiled in a heated budget debate with Councilor Andre Spivey, the report said. He urged members to look after the finances and the councilor was offended and told him so. Spivey stressed that the comment was not addressed to them, but to the entire panel.

Detroit City Councilor Andre Spivey

“Oral dispute between the parties continued until Council President Brenda Jones called for a break,” it reads. “As soon as the break was on, Councilor Castañeda-López left her seat and physically went to the other side of the table where Councilor Spivey was sitting. She tried to continue the conversation.

“Councilor Spivey remembers being offended, or rather offended, by the behavior. He remembers telling her, ‘You won’t scourge another black guy at this table,'” the report said.

Interviews with Castañeda-López and Spivey indicated neither the intention of creating fear for a person’s safety nor of forcing or inducing coercion, the report says.

“This was consistent with testimony about what happened, although some were stunned by the exchange,” the report said. “It was atypical and Councilor Castañeda-López and Councilor Spivey have worked together without incident in the past.”

Other conflicts identified included an incident between Castañeda-López and Councilor Roy McCalister and an incident between her and Jones.

Witness testimony and video footage from city council meetings in Detroit confirm these encounters as sporadic incidents. This emerges from the report, in which the urgency of budget hearings has likely contributed to the tension between Council members.

Jones and Spivey did not immediately respond to messages asking for comment on Friday night.

“The investigation revealed a lack of communication between the parties and little effort to effectively resolve the conflicts,” the Civil Rights Office noted. “There was no evidence of willful malice or intent to cause a reasonable fear for a person’s safety, nor evidence of coercion or coercion. Nor was there any evidence that the council leadership participated in or condoned bad behavior among council members . “

The investigation also assessed whether Castañeda-López – the first Latina member of the Detroit Council in history – was discriminated against because of her national origin.

Castañeda-López alleged that she was discriminated against by other council members during a Facebook video she posted. She described the behavior she found discriminatory as being interrupted or interrupted while she was speaking and, according to the report, giving less time to speak at meetings than others and as consistent failure of the council to adhere to the rules.

“There was consensus among witnesses that Councilor Castañeda-López could be held up for a long time during the sessions,” it said. “One witness described it as ‘monopolizing time’. It was recognized that councilors sometimes experienced feelings of frustration or irritation from the extensive dialogue. However, those feelings were motivated by the consideration of time constraints and a desire to move the agenda forward.”

Castañeda-López is the only Latina councilor on Detroit City Council. However, she is not the only woman, black person, or the youngest member of the nine-member board.

“Witnesses agreed that Councilor Castañeda-López was not disadvantaged or discriminated against because of her national origin,” it says.

The Civil Rights Inquiry concluded that the council could benefit from improved relationships between members and made several recommendations, including bias and discrimination training and the potential of an outside mediator to address conflict in the workplace.

“In the course of the investigation, several witnesses expressed concern that Councilor Castañeda-López himself could be treated in a discriminatory manner,” the report said. “This problem arose because of negative interactions with male African American councilors.”

“Councilor Castañeda-López was not discriminated against in the performance of the duties and responsibilities of her position as Detroit because of her national origin

City council member, “it says.” The investigation also failed to show that Councilor Castañeda-López was given less time to speak compared to other Council members. “

In a statement Friday, the alderman said she shared sexual harassment and bias concerns with Jones in 2015 prior to the investigation, but no action was taken after or after the 2019 investigation.

“I was incredibly shocked and disappointed to read that none of the experiences or narratives I shared during the investigation with CRIO were included in the 2019 report, especially as the behavior continues to this day,” she said. “More troubling was the drafting of the report and the advice I received during the investigation not to approach things as a victim.”

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