Political Workplace Violence?

Some very interesting things have been happening lately with respect to workplaces which are not first to come to mind when you are trying to think of dangerous places to work.

For instance: In Council Chambers.

That’s right…the places where city representatives come to work and run the business of our towns.

Recently in the City of Patterson, California, a judge granted Councilman Dennis McCord a five-month workplace violence restraining order against fellow Patterson City Council member Sheree Lustgarten.

The city attained the temporary order in response to Lustgarten leaving several emotionally charged, threatening and profane messages for city representatives including McCord, following the release of an investigation into the councilwoman’s conduct at the Hammon Senior Center.

It is the councilwoman’s behaviour at the Hammon Senior Center (which is owned and run by the City of Patterson) towards staff, most of whom are senior citizens themselves that had caused so much angst that an independent investigation was requested and initiated.

The investigation report was released to the public in a redacted form on July 13th 2015 and concluded that Lustgarten “more likely than not” engaged in verbal and occasionally physical behavior that left senior citizen patrons and volunteers feeling bullied, intimidated or belittled.

Within the investigation document, it is alleged that the council woman stated to an interviewee that she was simply trying to get the seniors more organized, and that she was trying to assist them in the operation and conduct of activities occurring at the seniors’ center.

A special closed door meeting was held by the City to discuss the findings of the investigation. It was at that meeting, when an incident occurred which triggered the application for the restraining order.

Seniors Threatening One Another!

Patterson City Manager Ken Irwin testified that at that meeting, Lustgarten stated to Deputy City Attorney Doug White, “If Dennis (McCord) leaks anything out of closed session, he is dead!”

Mayor Luis Molina was present when the alleged threat was uttered, and he and White state in their declarations that Lustgarten said in reference to McCord, “If he leaks anything, he’s dead.”

The Restraining Order prohibits Lustgarten from harassing, molesting, striking, assaulting, battering, abusing, destroying the personal property of or disturbing the peace of the councilman; committing acts of violence or threatening McCord; contacting him in person, writing or by phone; and taking any action to obtain his address or location.

The no-go part of the restraining order states that Lustgarten must keep at least 100 yards away from McCord, his house and his vehicle but the ruling does not prohibit the councilwoman from attending Patterson City Council meetings.

What can we learn from it all?

What does all of this tell us? Well, for one thing, it is a strong reminder that workplace violence is picky about the type of workplaces where it shows up.

We must be vigilant to signs of aggression but sometimes when we are of the belief that this “could never happen here!”  that is when we are at our most vulnerable…when we are not expecting it.

This is why my previous comments about Zero Tolerance policies are so important. It is because they provide a decision making framework for just these sorts of issues……the sort of issues that people never thought would ever occur where they work.

But they do!