Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday declined to say whether Mayor Michael Hancock should face repercussions over harassment allegations, though he stressed the need for the proper framework to address such allegations in future cases across city and state government.
Hancock admitted to sending suggesting messages to Detective Leslie Branch-Wise, who said the text messages were harassment. Last week, the Denver City Council announced they are “unable” to further investigate Hancock’s behavior. It was their third major statement over the incident, which has prompted calls for Hancock’s resignation.
But Hickenlooper said it’s not up to him to tell a “home-rule city” like Denver how to handle such a situation.
“Mayor Hancock came out and gave a heartfelt apology,” Hickenlooper said. “He has addressed, I think, most of the issues. I don’t think there’s a lot of questions about what actually happened. Maybe there are some lingering questions that I’m not aware of. I don’t think any of that diminishes that we need a framework.”
Denver needs to create their own guidelines, as does the General Assembly, that would provide safeguards to guarantee workplace safety, Hickenlooper said. He said there’s an obligation to “create clarity” on what the boundaries are in the workplace.
This framework would include options for consequences. That could include termination, suspension or warnings, based on the allegations. Hickenlooper said there’s “variation” in the kind of incidents reported.
“This is an issue that is the result of many decades of cultural influences that did not in any way restrict this kind of behavior and, some people argue, encourage this behavior,” Hickenlooper said. He acknowledged that some people don’t feel like they can speak up, due to intimidation. “That’s just unacceptable.”
A report on workplace culture at the Capitol released by Colorado lawmakers last week showed almost a third of people said they have seen or experienced harassment.
Bottom line, Hickenlooper said: Any person should feel safe to come to work without being harassed.
“That’s something that I think every business, every municipal or county government and certainly state government should embrace,” Hickenlooper said. “I think there’s an argument that says let’s get it right, let’s not rush into action. That being said, there needs to be a sense of urgency.”
The sooner guidelines are put into place, the system will be better off, Hickenlooper said.
“I think we’re going to get there,” Hickenlooper said. “This is one of those things that is very painful and hard to get through the process, but ultimately, we will come out a stronger city, a stronger state, a stronger country.”
The Governor’s Office has guidelines on workplace harassment, with training required for all employees of the executive branch, press secretary Jacque Montgomery said in a email following the press conference.
“Our goal is to make sure everyone knows how to respond to instances or reports of workplace harassment,” Montgomery said in an email. “We want to assure all employees that we will respond appropriately.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidates don’t support further consequences for Hancock.
Hancock’s allegations resurfaced Wednesday during a Democratic gubernatorial debate.
All three participating candidates — former state senator Mike Johnston, former state treasurer Cary Kennedy and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne — declined to raise their hands when asked if they believed Hancock deserved serious consequences over the harassment allegations.
The display caused some murmurs among audience members.
Kennedy formerly worked for Hancock. In response to a question over whether or not she should have been aware of payments made to Hancock’s close friend over harassment allegations, Kennedy said she didn’t raise her hand because she worked for him for almost six years and never witnessed anything inappropriate. Kennedy had previously served as the city’s CFO under Hancock.
She said there are “dozens” of lump sum payments annually that are appropriated by the CFO’s office to the city attorney’s office.
“So no, I should not have known,” Kennedy said. “It was, it wouldn’t have been appropriate for me to be there.”
Kennedy said she’s known Hancock since high school. She was the only candidate who was asked an additional question over the allegations.
“He was a first-rate professional as a boss in all those years that I worked with him,” Kennedy said. “His conduct was clearly inappropriate. I believe he needs to participate in training.”
Kennedy said the process for women to report harassment needs to be improved.
All three candidates agreed with the expulsion of former Democrat and state representative Steve Lebsock over sexual misconduct allegations and attempted expulsion of Republican State Senator Randy Baumgardner over allegations that he inappropriately touched a legislative aide.