Cook: Chattanooga administrator Paul Page should resign or be fired

Cook: Chattanooga administrator Paul Page should resign or be fired

September 22nd, 2011 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Paul Page, our city's director of general services, should resign immediately.

Or be fired.

As should any administrator within city government who knew of Page's threatening behavior toward female colleagues and did nothing about it.

Why? Because women are not objects. Because Page works in an institution devoted to democracy, where all people are supposedly represented, not just aggressive men.

Because sexual harassment is a crime.

"For the last two years, I have been regularly treated to inappropriate sexual behavior, requests and come-ons from one of the city's top supervisors, Paul Page," wrote a woman (let's call her Zoe) in a 2008 letter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"Page is considered second in command to the mayor, and is also considered Mayor Ron Littlefield's closest advisor and friend," she wrote.

In 2008, Zoe was one of at least two women who filed complaints at the federal and local levels alleging harassment by Page. For safety reasons, she has requested anonymity until the matter is settled.

According to her testimony to the EEOC, Page has created a culture of intimidation, foulness and aggression.

"I have told him I don't do the kind of 'special training' he has asked for," Zoe wrote the EEOC. "He has explained I should consider this special training seriously, since he thinks I 'owe' him for turning him on and he cares about my career trajectory, and needs willing women.

"He said he and the mayor take care of women who take care of them."

An independent investigation ordered by the city in 2008 discovered that Page had joked about breasts, women's clothing and sexual acts.

After the independent investigation verified many of the complaints against him, Page, who earns nearly $100,000 a year, was ordered to attend sexual harassment training and told if anything happened again, he would lose his job.

People with unpaid parking tickets are given stronger punishments.

Yet in 2009, Kathryn Ann Hise, a local small-business owner, filed a lawsuit -- still pending

-- against Page, charging assault, battery, fraud and causing emotional distress.

So how does the city respond to this list of complaints against one of its top administrators? It comes down harshly, swiftly, without looking back.

Paul Page, Chattanooga's director of general services

Just not against Page.

It punishes the victim.

In 2008, Zoe was fired.

Shortly thereafter -- she believes because the city learned there was a federal investigation -- Zoe was rehired, but relocated to a different building in a different part of town.

Even now, as the EEOC has verified Zoe's claims -- "the Charging Party and a class of individuals were sexually harassed and retaliated against," its report reads -- the city continues to stand by its man.

"The Charging Party could have approached any supervisor, manager or elected official to file a complaint or she would have been counseled and directed how to appropriately file with her complaint," Assistant City Attorney Ken Fritz recently wrote in a letter rebutting the EEOC's findings.

What is this, elementary school? Zoe's in trouble because she didn't follow directions? After years of complaints alleged -- and now proven -- against Page, the city's response is to blame the victim, and further vilify her by claiming she did not follow procedure?

First, it's outrageously sexist. Second, Zoe says, it's completely untrue.

"The employees and supervisors feel their hands are tied, since we've all complained up the chain of command to no avail and the harassment has continued each time," she wrote in her EEOC letter in 2008. "We get the idea we need to stop complaining about something that the top executives aren't interested in hearing about."

I have two questions for Mayor Littlefield.

How long have you known about the behavior of Page, who reports directly to you?

Why do you allow a man with multiple harassment charges to continue to work for you?

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@blumail.org