Censure of East Palo Alto councilman postponed
Council wants time to read Evans' response; Woods selected as mayor
Outspoken, divisive, and currently the subject of a harassment complaint, East Palo Alto Councilman A. Peter Evans wasn't selected mayor Tuesday night -- even though he was in line for the position.
But he also wasn't formally censured for harassing Assistant City Manager M.L. Gordon or for retaliating against Gordon's complaint.
That action is expected at the council's Dec. 19 meeting, after Evans' colleagues have had an opportunity to review his 14-page response to the allegations, released Monday.
In June, the assistant city manager made a formal complaint of harassment and racial discrimination, saying he was a victim because of Evans' "continued insult, intimidation and ridicule of me and others."
The council launched an investigation into the matter and most recently directed the attorney assisting them, Cynthia O'Neill, to draft a censure of Evans, a public apology, provide training on harassment prevention, alter the city's harassment policy and adopt rules of conduct for council members.
As currently proposed, the censure would simply formalize the council's disapproval of Evans' behavior without imposing a punishment.
O'Neill presented the draft apology and censure to the council Tuesday, but the councilmembers opted to delay discussing them until they and the public have had a chance to read Evans' response.
In his response, Evans states that he did not write earlier because he only understood the retaliation charges when documents were delivered to his house Dec. 1, despite having requested them earlier. In her Oct. 26 report, investigator Karen Kramer said she informed Evans verbally of the retaliation allegations in a Sept. 12 interview.
Evans said Wednesday he was only questioned about the retaliation -- it was not explained to him.
The retaliation allegations were added to Gordon's original complaint because following the filing of the complaint, Evans recommended the elimination of the assistant city-manager position. Gordon told Kramer he believed that was retaliatory.
Evans said he would not shy away from saying if he thought Gordon should be fired. "This was a position elimination, not a personal elimination," Evans said.
Kramer wrote that she was unable to determine whether Evans' comments about eliminating the position preceded Gordon's complaint.
In the document, which Evans signs as "unbought, unbossed," the councilman questions the legitimacy of the original complaint and retaliation charge, and questions the fairness of the investigation itself, which he calls "the plot."
He said he was not kept informed or given an opportunity for defense.
Kramer interviewed several city employees in her investigation. Evans discounts their contributions as "Captured Hostile witnesses" because they work for the city.
He maintains that "if you do your job competently, you will have no trouble from me."
In his response, Evans criticizes City Manager Alvin James and City Attorney Michael Lawson. These harsh critiques, mentioned by several employees in the Kramer report, contribute to the culture of harassment, the employees said.
Evans mentioned race only a few times in his response, although the Kramer report is packed with references to racial comments he has allegedly made.
Evans wrote he was initially pleased that a young African American woman was acting as the finance director and that a white planning commissioner had said he hasn't heard a racial comment from Evans. In addition, Evans agrees that he called the city's former finance director white. "This remains a fact: She is. Is the harassment in being white?" he wrote.
Evans said he is not actively planning a response following the expected censure, but said "This is the first inning and we have 99 more innings to go. . . . This is just the beginning of the process."
Gordon wasn't available for comment Wednesday.
Trouble isn't new for Evans; neither are allegations of his racism. In a 2001 council meeting, he told developer Linda Law to "go back to Israel" and was removed from the meeting by the police chief. The Kramer report refers repeatedly to Evans' comments about white developers. Evans was recalled from the Sanitary District Board of Directors in 1994 for allegedly exceeding his travel budget.
Tuesday's mayoral election also revealed a gap in the young city's laws. A 1991 city resolution states that the "Vice-Mayor shall be selected as Mayor." The mayor is elected by the council only if the vice mayor is no longer on the council or if he or she has previously been mayor, but there are others on the council who haven't, according to Resolution No. 738.
Nonetheless, the council initiated a vote for mayor, with Evans receiving only his own vote Tuesday. His colleagues picked David E. Woods for mayor and Councilwoman Patricia Foster for vice mayor. Woods, a business owner, recently won a second term in November.
"In my heart of hearts, really, I think that all councilmembers should have the opportunity to become mayor, but I also think it's a position that's earned, and your colleagues have to have confidence that you're going to represent the city in the best light," Councilwoman Donna Rutherford said.
Woods also acknowledged the inadequacy of the city's current mayoral-selection policy.
Lawson was unavailable for comment by deadline.
Woods immediately faced loud challenges to his leadership from residents who support Evans. A few even threatened to recall him.
"This just seems to be a really depressing day in our community," said Lorraine Holmes, who said she has lived in East Palo Alto for 55 years. "I just hope that someday we get it together."
The council is expected to discuss the proposed censure of Evans' behavior and public apology at its Dec. 19 meeting.
Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at email@example.com.