South Lake Tahoe to consider censure of councilmember JoAnn Conner
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The South Lake Tahoe City Council will consider censuring councilwoman JoAnn Conner at a special meeting at 3 p.m. on Oct. 19. The open meeting will be held in the city council chambers, located 1901 Airport Road.
Mayor Hal Cole said he called for the meeting following reports of bullying behavior between Conner and city employees. It follows a Sept. 17 decision made by Nancy Kerry, South Lake Tahoe’s city manager, that directed staff not to interact with Conner based on her behavior and language with employees.
While the agenda hasn’t been finalized yet, Cole said discussion items will likely include a resolution to ban Conner from conducting one-on-one interactions with city staff.
“This restriction will protect us and the city employees,” Cole said.
The second item includes a formal censure, or admonishment.
“What has bothered me over the last few weeks is that JoAnn has tried to portray this as a personal issue between our city manager and JoAnn,” Cole said.
Cole added that the resolution will support Kerry’s decision, which he said wasn’t a personal attack against Conner.
“I do think that JoAnn has a good heart and that her agenda is something I support,” Cole said. “But it’s not the message; it’s the messenger.”
According to Cole, a February public city council retreat addressed Conner’s behavior. At what Cole described as an emotional meeting, it appeared headway had been made.
“She did admit she could improve her behavior,” Cole said.
The same behavior continued, however, based on what Cole said he read in city attorney reports.
“There were employees seeking help because they felt bullied and harassed,” Cole said. “That type of behavior isn’t acceptable in an organization of the city’s size.”
A censure won’t prevent Conner from fulfilling her role as an elected official.
Disparaging, abusive or belittling comments constitute a hostile work environment. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission considers behavior such as harassment something the city is liable for if it doesn’t stop.
Cole said the procedure is a first for him in his 20 years as a councilman.
Conner however said there isn’t any substance to the accusations, only innuendo.
“I feel like I have less civil liberties than a convicted mass murderer,” Conner said on Thursday, Oct. 8. “It’s a shame as an American you have to give up civil liberties to serve on city council.”
Conner said that the city manager’s office was also monitoring council members’ emails. She had emailed one council member from her private account to discuss a non-city Christmas event when she received an email from Kerry giving directions to city attorney Tom Watson to review the matter.
Kerry, on Thursday, Oct. 8, called Conner’s accusation untrue.
“As Ms. Conner has been informed, if she sends an email to a city employee, that email would be bounced to the city attorney and myself for consideration before forwarding the email,” Kerry said by email. “Neither I nor the city attorney or anyone else is monitoring any other city councilmember emails. The city attorney explained that to Ms. Conner directly.”
Kerry added that city council protocols dictate that all emails to staff “usually” go through the city manager’s office.
Conner said that misinformation is spreading as well, including accusations that she carries a concealed handgun in her purse to city council meetings.
“I’ve never had or applied for a concealed carry permit and never carried a weapon, loaded or unloaded, in my purse onto any government property,” Conner said. “To say that is unconscionable.”
Conner also said several city employees have approached her in the past saying that they didn’t feel bullied by her. She said Kerry and other council members are escalating the matter.
“They can’t attack my record based on my public service, so they are attacking my character,” Conner said.
Conner coordinates several community events, like the annual Fourth of July parade, through her business Golden Bear Events.
She said the Oct. 19 special meeting will hopefully give her an opportunity to face the people making the accusations.
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