Kenai Peninsula Borough begins work on new harassment policies

the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chambers
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chambers (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

The Kenai Peninsula Borough says it’s working to update its harassment reporting policies, as it continues closed-door discussions on multiple cases related to alleged sexual harassment from borough employees.

At a borough Assembly meeting Tuesday, Borough Mayor Peter Micciche said there’s a new reporting link on the borough’s employee portal to report complaints. He said the page is part of a larger overhaul of the borough’s harassment reporting policies.

“We need to keep our employees safe, we need to create an expectation for behavior for everyone at the borough, whether or not they are employees, visitors or elected officials,” Micciche said.

The borough is facing multiple lawsuits from former employees of the borough who allege harassment from supervisors — including a lawsuit against former Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce.

In a suit filed last October amid Pierce’s gubernatorial campaign, Pierce’s former assistant, Pamela Wastell, said she endured a hostile work environment and “constant” sexual harassment for the year and a half she was Pierce’s executive assistant. She said the borough failed to protect her and other employees from his harassment.

Pierce has denied those allegations. The borough Assembly met in executive session Tuesday to talk about the lawsuit.

Another suit against the borough alleges harassment and retaliation from a supervisor of the Kachemak Emergency Services Fire Area. Former Fire Technician Courtney Moody said she was sexually harassed by a supervisor, then fired for speaking out about it. The borough met about that complaint in executive session last month.

The lawyer representing Wastell said the borough did not have a clear and safe reporting mechanism for sexual harassment.

As it stands, the borough’s Bullying, Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation Prevention Policy says employees making complaints should bring them to the attention of their supervisor, the head of their department or the human resources director. The matter should then be referred to the human resources director, or, if the complaint is against the director, to the borough attorney. The acting human resources director at the time of Wastell’s complaint was Pierce’s chief of staff, Aaron Rhoades, who left the borough following Pierce’s resignation.

In an interview after he was elected, Micciche said he wants to more clearly outline the reporting process for complaints and potential consequences, in addition to what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable. He said Tuesday his office is now working on an improved bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment policy.

“And we will have those policies available for you here in the coming weeks,” Micciche said. “I think that’s a key issue — certainly one that I focused on as we moved forward.”

The Assembly’s next meeting is April 18.

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