Orlando Gudes should resign from the Tampa City Council. The vulgar, demeaning comments attributed to him have damaged Gudes’ name, his workplace and his effectiveness in elected office. There is no place at City Hall for a toxic work environment or a political leader who so seriously compromised his own authority.
A city probe released Monday found that Gudes created a hostile workplace for a former aide by making a series of crude, sexual and sexist comments toward her, her teenage daughter and other women, including Mayor Jane Castor. Attorneys with the Trenam law firm interviewed 20 people in response to a complaint the aide filed in August. The report paints a harrowing picture of verbal abuse. Gudes allegedly told the aide’s teenage daughter to sit up straight because “you have really big boobs and if you keep standing like that, your boobs will be down to here.” In another incident, Gudes allegedly referred to Castor, who is gay, with a derogatory term, and in another, speculated on her sexual habits. He reportedly referred to an unnamed council member as a “p***y mother f**ker” and said of one city official at a retirement party: “That’s a beautiful woman. She has a big butt.”
Gudes either denied or said he couldn’t recall making nearly all the comments. But in a statement, he also acknowledged his conduct was inappropriate. “While I disagree with the entirety of the findings in the report,” he said,” I do accept responsibility for comments that I made.”
You don’t accept responsibility by offering weak explanations, by refusing to acknowledge the impact of sexualized speech and by ignoring the vast power differential between an elected council member and his hand-picked aide. The Trenam investigators found the aide credible in part because her allegations were corroborated in some instances by other witnesses. And let’s not forget who had so much to lose — the aide who worked directly for the chairman, and who reportedly lost in excess of $20,000 by moving to another city job not under Gudes’ control. Trenam reported that Gudes “went on to express disbelief that (the aide) would make sexual harassment allegations against him ‘after all [he] has done for her.’” So much for Gudes learning from this experience.
Castor has no authority to discipline council members, though in a statement this week, the mayor declared: “If (Gudes) were a city employee he would be fired over these credible and corroborated sexual harassment revelations.” While the aide did not allege that Gudes touched her or made sexual advances, the investigation found that he “created a hostile working environment by comments and conduct which a reasonable person of your sex would find offensive.” Thomas M. Gonzalez, the city’s outside labor attorney, underscored the point in his review of the case. “In the case of harassment based on sex, the offending conduct need not be overtly sexual in nature,” Gonzalez wrote. “If a reasonable woman would find the conduct offensive on the basis of sex or gender, it can be unlawful.”
Two of Gudes’ five colleagues on council called on him to resign Tuesday, though Gudes said he had no plans to step down. Should he refuse, the council should explore stripping Gudes of the chairmanship before electing new officers in May. The council chair, after all, is first in line to fill any unexpected mayoral vacancy, and Gudes doesn’t belong in that chain of succession. In fact, he doesn’t belong on the City Council at all.
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