The stain after Page

The stain after Page

October 6th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Paul Page is finally gone from city government, but not the problem.

The problem is that Mayor Ron Littlefield failed for three years to fire Page after an investigation validated charges of sexual harassment against him by two women employees in his office in the fall of 2008. The mayor has yet to explain or apologize that, even though a federal EEOC ruling also found the city had retaliated against one of the two employees by transferring her out of Page's office, while leaving Page in his job.

Littlefield not only kept Page in his job: He also gave him subsequent pay increases, even after Page was handed a 5-day suspension without pay and forced to take a sexual harassment course in early 2009 following an independent investigation into the second sexual harassment charge. Rather than fire Page, who reported directly to the mayor, he was merely warned that he could be fired for continued sexual harassment.

The city's independent investigation three years ago found that Page had made comments to his staff about women's breasts, their sexual practices and their clothing, and had made inappropriate jokes. He even asked some female employees to kiss his office window so he could see their lipstick prints.

Page was officially said on Tuesday to have "retired" from his job as the city's director of general services. His salary when he quit was $98,462. That was considerably more than he made when Littlefield hired him in 2005.

Littlefield's silence on his continued cozy coddling of Page after the sexual harassment charges against him were filed is appalling. All the mayor had to say to the press Tuesday came through his spokesman, Richard Beeland, who said Littlefield "accepted this course of action."

Littlefield should have fired Page earlier based on the outcome of the city's independent investigation. His tolerance of Page's alleged behavior tacitly condoned it. It also harmed employee morale in city government, and contributed to an atmosphere of cronyism, unequal treatment and unequal enforcement of city personnel policies.

The mayor's laxity and favoritism apparently arose from his long friendship with Page. The mayor has previously acknowledged that his friendship with Page began in the 1980s, when both men had local government jobs in North Georgia. A search of Page's job history by this paper's city hall reporter, Cliff Hightower, revealed that Page had held 10 jobs in local government in Tennessee and Georgia, and was fired from city or county manager jobs in Fort Oglethorpe, Dade County and Soddy-Daisy. One of the firings involved a charge of sexual harassment.

Littlefield recommended Page for the job in Fort Oglethorpe in 2000, and for his job with the city in 2005, when he hired Page. The mayor later created the position Page held until this week, and had Page reporting directly to him.

Page has denied the allegations of sexual harassment. The harm that has resulted, however, falls as well on Mayor Littlefield. Some city residents familiar with the case rightly see the city's response to the sexual harassment charges as an insult to residents and taxpayers, and a stain on Littlefield's administration. They believe the mayor's handling of the Page case is systemic of a larger problem in city government. They have good reason to think that.