Puyallup council raps mayor after report of 'unwelcome conduct'
The Puyallup City Council formally admonished Mayor Rick Hansen Tuesday night during the first regular council meeting since news of an “unwelcome contact” complaint made against him by a city employee became public.
In the admonishment, read aloud by the city attorney, council members said: “We, the council, have been told about the facts involving the mayor. We find the mayor’s behavior to be inappropriate. We hereby admonish the mayor.”
Hansen, a veteran council member who was selected by his colleagues in January to act as mayor, told the standing-room only crowd that there was “no improper intent.” But he said he since has voluntarily
taken an “awareness class” and that he is “truly sorry and embarrassed.”
“I can assure you this type of incident will not occur again,” he said.
Shortly before the meeting, the city released to The News Tribune a document that sheds some light on what allegedly happened. The document is a single page of typed notes from an April 24 meeting that two city attorneys and Puyallup’s human resources director had with the female city worker who made the complaint.
The employee reported that Hansen touched her twice that month – once on the shoulder and once on the hip – during separate interactions at City Hall.
She said the interactions left her feeling “annoyed” and that she felt Hansen needed to “understand there are boundaries,” the document said.
According to the document, the woman reported that:
• On April 19, she was having trouble with a copier. Hansen came over, touched her shoulder while her back was to the copier, leaned in and said, “What would you say if I told you I was a little bit afraid of you?”
After she moved away, he said, “Would you say you’d be a little afraid of me?”
She said, “No.”
Another person was at the copy machine at one point but apparently didn’t witness that part of the interaction.
The employee who made the complaint characterized the exchange with Hansen as playful and flirtatious, but not intimidating.
• On April 24, some employees were gathered around a work station, discussing the meaning of some ribbons hanging on a tree outside. Hansen came over and said they were for a cancer walk.
He touched the woman’s hip, “toward the front, close to her abdomen” and said the ribbons were the same color as her shirt.
The complaint became public in early July as the result of a News Tribune public records request. An attached memo from City Manager Ralph Dannenberg directed Hansen not to engage in inappropriate conduct and encouraged him to attend training, but few other details were released. The city manager declined to describe what Hansen was accused of doing, and Hansen told the newspaper at the time he didn’t know which employee made the complaint or what triggered it.
After Tuesday’s meeting, the mayor said he had just seen the notes from the April 24 meeting this week. He said he wanted to provide more information to the public earlier but was discouraged from doing so by an attorney for the city’s insurance provider.
After the complaint was made, Hansen attended one-on-one human resources training paid for by the city.
More than a dozen citizens spoke Tuesday during the time in the council meeting set aside for public comment. Some said they supported Hansen and some said he should step down.
Mario Penalver, a teacher, said a school employee accused of improper conduct would be removed. “How can we as citizens of this city expect anything less of our own mayor?” he asked the council.
Resident Paula Harmes said she supports Hansen completely and that without all the facts, “I don’t think we should throw rocks at shiny things.”