Accusations of harassment dominate city council meeting
By Lori C. Adler
Monday, the Rhinelander City Council heard accusations of harassment of city workers during the public comment portion at the beginning of the meeting. Eight current and former employees of the City of Rhinelander appeared before the council to make statements about an increasingly hostile and dysfunctional work environment.
Though each statement was slightly different, the overall theme was one of harassment and intimidation. Each explained they had personally been victims of the harassment and had also witnessed the harassment of others. All the employees’ comments showed contentment with their positions and an overall desire to do a good job, but they all also expressed feelings that the hostile environment was making it difficult to do their work.
All the workers also noted that they and others had followed the chain of command to report the issues to superiors, including department heads and elected officials, but no corrective action has been taken. One employee, Jennifer Berger, said. “I feel when we report these incidents, nothing is done to fix the problems and change people’s behavior.”
Each employee expressed frustration with the way the city is responding to these issues, though two workers stating that they felt the city administrator was trying to help, with one of the city workers adding, “Only Daniel Guild has listened to employee concerns. His annual work plan exposed these problems.”
Every one of the eight noted that these incidents have been happening for years, and that the frequency of the events is rising. In addition, all added they feared retaliation for speaking publicly. Fighting back tears, Berger demonstrated concern that her statement could “cost me my job.”
Council members do not generally respond to statements made during the public comment portion of the meeting, and nothing regarding the issue of employee harassment was on Monday’s agenda. However, at the end of the meeting, Alderperson Steve Sauer requested a future agenda item to discuss having a third-party outside investigator come in to explore employees’ concerns as well as retention, morale, and the city’s overall employment practices.