An investigation report launched by the city exploring allegations of harassment by Goldsboro Councilman Antonio Williams toward a city employee was released Thursday.
If the allegations are found true, the city could be held liable if the council fails to act.
Williams, the council’s District 1 representative, was censured by City Council in May in a 4-2 vote for allegedly creating a hostile work environment for Shycole Simpson-Carter, Goldsboro community relations director, during the past two years.
Simpson-Carter provided a written report on Oct. 2 recounting interactions with Williams from a Sept. 27 Goldsboro-Wayne Transportation Authority closed session where Williams “engaged in a personal attack on her, which other board members attempted to prevent and diffuse,” according to the investigation report.
After the meeting, one of the GWTA board members, whose name was redacted in the report, presented a letter to the interim city manager requesting that Williams be replaced on the GWTA board.
Freeman Hardison Jr., GWTA board chairman, wrote a letter to council asking for the removal of Williams from the GWTA board.
On Oct. 15, the council acted on Hardison’s request and removed Williams as the city’s representative on the board.
Also, days after the GWTA meeting, on Oct. 4, Simpson-Carter sent a memo to the General Court of Justice seeking a domestic violence protective order against Williams, according to the investigation report. In it, she said, Williams had created a hostile work environment for her as a city of Goldsboro employee from May 11, 2017, to Oct. 1.
The following day, Williams sent a formal complaint to the city of Goldsboro alleging that Simpson-Carter had conspired to ruin his reputation by making false allegations against him in a closed session of a GWTA meeting and her employment with the city should be terminated, according to the report.
‘POSITION OF POWER’
“Unfortunately, the situation has escalated and must now be addressed by the City Council to avoid liability for allowing a hostile work environment, about which it is now on notice, to continue,” the report says.
“The fact that Council Member Williams considers himself to be in a position of power such that he can demand Ms. Simpson-Carter’s termination is relevant, even though the hiring and termination of city employees is clearly the role of the city manager.”
The act of demanding her termination could be found by a legal factfinder, such as a judge or jury, to constitute both a continuation of a hostile work environment and retaliation for Simpson-Carter’s complaining about his allegedly discriminatory treatment of her based on her sex, and possibly her race, according to the report.
The first contention between Williams and Simpson-Carter arose over a pet project of Williams that Simpson-Carter was overseeing, the Summer Youth Employment Initiative Program, which was launched April 6, 2017.
The report indicates Williams was dissatisfied with Simpson-Carter’s job administering the youth employment program.
Before the council work session April 17, 2017, the city manager informed Simpson-Carter that Williams and his girlfriend had made several visits to his office to complain that Williams was not being kept informed about the summer youth jobs program by Simpson-Carter. The city manager assured Simpson-Carter she was doing her job properly, the report shows.
Names of people, including the city manager, and others interviewed during the investigation, were redacted from the report prior to its release. Scott Stevens was the city manager in 2017 at the start of the city summer job program.
Several city employees, including department leaders, were interviewed as part of the investigation.
“Other city employees, but not all, confirm that Council Member Williams can be difficult to work with, has on occasion expected special treatment, and has on occasion has refused to adhere to city policies and guidelines,” according to the report.
DOCUMENT SHEDS LIGHT
Councilman David Ham, who made the motion to censure Williams along with a letter admonishing him over his conduct and restricting him from certain areas of City Hall where Simpson-Carter works, said the report needed to come out.
“Because there is information in there that provides background on the actions that are being taken, pertaining to censure and other disciplinary actions that the public needs to be aware of,” Ham said. “But at this point it may seem to some like it’s all pure speculation or unknown. This document provides factual information on events that took place.”
Ham said the council had originally discussed conducting a censure hearing against Williams in June but due to scheduling issues, it has tentatively been pushed back to July.
“It will be a hearing to discuss the facts that have been determined,” Ham said. “Williams will have the opportunity to bring witnesses to that hearing.”
If council determines Williams harassed Simpson-Carter, it could prohibit access to her office or certain city buildings. City Council can also ask the city attorney to seek local legislation to authorize a recall election or even remove Williams from office by a motion proceeding, according to the report. A motion proceeding is a quasi-judicial process.
“It’s unfortunate the situation came to this point,” Ham said. “But it was something I think the majority of us have to proceed with and get the matter resolved because the city has been put at risk, and we can’t be seen as not taking action on the behalf of our employees.”
The report also recommends that the city provide additional training to incoming city council members about their responsibilities with regard to dealings with city employees and provide additional training to city employees regarding discrimination, harassment, retaliation and how to report problems.
“What the City Council should remember is that the facts in this case are clearly sufficient to put the city as risk for liability for allowing further allegedly discriminatory or retaliatory behavior to occur,” the report says.
RELEASING THE REPORT
Simpson-Carter decided to allow the city to make the investigation report public, although it is unconventional, since it is a personnel issue.
“I have nothing to hide or gain in this matter, personal or professional,” Simpson-Carter said Friday. “It is solely about standing for restoring the integrity and trust between the city and the community. Councilman Williams’ deviant and horrendous behaviors combined with premeditated lies has eroded the community-city relationship more than we were already dealing with.”
Simpson-Carter said Williams and others have left her with no other option but to continue with her lawsuit.
“This is not a trivial issue,” she said.
On Friday, Williams deferred calls to his attorney.
Mario White, Williams’ attorney out of Clinton, declined to give a statement.
“I don’t believe in giving statements ... trying cases in the public,” he said. “We’ll make all our statements at the hearing.”
White said he thought the hearing is set for July 2 but is unsure if the date has been confirmed.
Attorney Valerie Bateman, with the Forrest Firm, was hired by the city to complete the investigation, which began Oct. 10. The city agreed to pay the firm a flat fee of $1,500 and $280 per hour.
The total cost has not been confirmed by city officials.
The investigation report is available online at www.newsargus.com.