Former county commissioner and mayoral candidate Amanda Barge's name was never said during Wednesday's city council meeting, but her alleged actions are prompting new legislation in Bloomington.
The Bloomington City Council discussed changes to Title 2 of the Bloomington Municipal Code, which contains legislation regarding city administration and personnel, during its most recent working session to include sexual harassment protection for city-sanctioned contractors and city volunteers. Seven members of the council out of the nine present chose to pass on voting until language alterations to the amendment could be brought to the June 12 session.The other two members approved the amendment.
The city council also officially voted yes on a low-income housing agreement between the city of Bloomington and the Bloomington Housing Authority. It will allow for financing towards renovations and provide housing security for low-income Bloomington residents.
Brandon Drake, a former city contractor who accused Barge of sexual harassment in March, spoke during the session. Drake urged the city council to vote in favor of the amendment.
Drake suggested a separate commission from the city’s Human Resources department be convened to address sexual harassment allegations from city contractors. He said Barge told him she was HR's boss, which discouraged him from coming forward.
"She had the ability of destroying my career," Drake said.
He called for the people handling these accusations to go through training on how to talk to survivors. He also suggested the people who write the laws listen to those who have experience sexual harassment's recommendations on new legislation.
"I don't want them to ever feel as unsafe as I felt," Drake said after the vote.
Drake and other Bloomington citizens who commented on the amendment proposed the language be changed from he/she to they to include non-binary people. District 5 council member Isabel Piedmont-Smith seconded the change in language. Smith said she agreed non-binary people face higher rates of sexual harassment than cisgender people.
Barbara McKinney, assistant city attorney and director of the Bloomington Human Rights Commission, was asked by the mayor's office to draft and present the changes.
"We don't believe you should have to tolerate sexual harassment to complete work for the city,” McKinney said.
McKinney brought two paragraphs of proposed changes to the meeting, but loopholes in the language concerned the council.
McKinney said she thought the city's HR department could objectively handle the accusations. The city council questioned what would happen if an elected official such as the mayor or the director of HR was accused of sexual harassment. City lawyers present said they could not find legislation at the time of the meeting to explain what would happen.Multiple people said they would bring research on the matter to the next meeting.
McKinney said she plans to have a contract with the suggested changes and concrete language drafted for next Wednesday's session.
She also said if the amendment passes, formerly harassed city contractors would be encouraged to come forward.
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