The city of Hutto has asked an outside agency to investigate the leaking of a confidential report from a lawyer that said Hutto City Manager Odis Jones probably engaged in unlawful sexual harassment.
The report, done by Austin attorney Judy Osborn, was “limited and inaccurate,” the Hutto mayor and City Council said in a news release issued Wednesday night. “The initial administrative investigation performed by Osborn was later completed by the law firm McGinnis Lochridge, and upon the completion of investigation by McGinnis Lochridge, the City Council determined that the city manager’s decisions were just and proper, and that the city manager did nothing wrong,” the release said.
A lawyer for three fired female city employees, Millicent Lundburg, said in March they lost their jobs due to discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation by Jones.
Reached by phone Thursday, Osborn declined to comment. The city’s attorney, Michael Shaunessy, also declined to comment about what was in Osborn’s report. “Any client who retains a lawyer is entitled to keep the communication private and that’s not any different for a governmental entity,” he said.
Lundburg didn’t reply to a request for comment.
The first page of the report made by Osborn to the council and the mayor on March 6, was submitted anonymously to the American-Statesman. It said Jones violated the city of Hutto’s policy on “sexual and other unlawful harassment.” “The policy prohibits ‘sexual jokes and innuendo’ and ‘touching,’” the report by the attorney said.
The report said that Jones “probably” engaged in unlawful sexual harassment: “Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”
It also said the city manager’s “impromptu firing of three employees in the last two weeks was not preceded by either oral coaching or thoughtful written documentation and warnings that their jobs were in jeopardy, nor did he seek legal counsel or consult his Human Resources director for advice prior to acting on his decision.”
The first page of the report didn’t provide further details about any of the city manager’s actions.
A release earlier Wednesday from Hutto officials said the city has asked an outside agency to investigate former employees who disclosed the document. Shaunessy declined to say which agency was conducting the investigation.
“In particular, these employees appear to have taken information they had access to only because of their positions as employees of the City of Hutto and disclosed that information for some form of personal gain,” the city’s release said.
“It is unfortunate that disgruntled employees have behaved in this manner,” said the second release issued by Mayor Doug Gaul and the City Council. It said that “in final analysis, the City Council determined that the employment decisions made by the City Manager were legitimate and based on job performance issues with former employees.”
The punishment for misuse of official information can range from a Class C misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, according to the Texas Penal code. A Class C misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail. A third-degree felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The city has seen much turmoil recently. Along with the firings of the city’s human resources director, an assistant city manager and a senior planner, two City Council members — Michael Smith and Bettina Jordan — resigned last month, and Police Chief Earl Morrison resigned March 24 after a two-year stint.
Jones was hired as city manager in November.