The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to censure Assessor Gus Kramer, saying an associate appraiser claimed he made “unwelcome comments to her of a sexual nature,” according to the resolution the panel approved. Another county employee also has complained of his behavior.
Since Kramer is an elected official, Supervisors had no option to impose any harsher correction, although its resolution said the matter may be sent to the county’s civil grand jury to determine whether further investigation is warranted.
Kramer was not present during the 4-0 vote. District 1 Supervisor John Gioia was absent, although he had urged the Board to consider the resolution.
The resolution said the associate appraiser, identified publicly as Margaret Eychner, was concerned her career had been stalled after she reported events in 2015 that took place that year and in 2014. She filed her report with the department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Coordinator, the resolution said. Her formal complaint was filed in January.
An independent outside attorney investigator looked into the complaint, but that examination wasn’t finished until after Kramer, running unopposed, was reelected in the June primaries.
Meanwhile, another employee was named as a witness reported Kramer also had made comments of a sexual nature.
“[T]here was sufficient evidence to indicate that Mr. Kramer engaged in the following conduct in 2014 and 2015,” the resolution said, listing one occasion in which Kramer told the complainant he had given a vibrator to a woman, not a county employee. The complainant said she thought that was inappropriate and offensive, the resolution said.
In addition, Kramer sent her two text messages in 2014 she said suggested a romantic or sexual interest in her, which she considered inappropriate and unwelcome, and she supplied portions of those messages as evidence.
Kramer also gave her a rose in 2014, and she interpreted that as a romantic gesture. She said Kramer made other comments about his social interactions with women as well as one directed to her she considered suggestive, and she described these as inappropriate and offensive as well,
The subsequent investigation didn’t find that Kramer retaliated against the complainant or took any action that would impact her career or that of others, and evidence showed Kramer stopped making remarks of a sexual nature to the employees once he learned of their complaints.
Nor has there been further harassment complaints from employees against Kramer since mid-2015.
However, Kramer has been the subject of at least one other situation in which he had been accused of sexual harassment, racism and retaliation in a complaint filed in 2000 by Bernice Peoples, a former county employee. Although a jury rejected most of her accusations, it agreed she had experienced retaliation for filing her complaint. Eventually, the county reached a $1 million settlement in the matter.
In televised interviews, Kramer has denied the more recent accusations, saying the complainant had been flirting with him and the pair had been exchanging banter.
An attorney at Tuesday’s meeting asked for the Board to postpone its vote until Kramer could obtain legal representation, and he questioned whether the panel had the authority to censure Kramer. The county’s own counsel disagreed, saying Kramer is an officer of the county under some supervision by the Board.
Through the attorney, Kramer reiterated his contention the Board violated the Brown Act that assures public access to most local government business when it discussed the matter in a closed session. He has said not only would he not resign, he would sue the board if it passed the resolution.
The resolution said the Board expects its employees and supervisors “to refrain from any conduct in the workplace that a reasonable person would consider to be inappropriate, offensive and welcome.”
In fact, County Administrator David Twa and District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover, who represents Martinez, emailed county employees, urging them to report any misconduct in light of the rise of the “Me, Too” movement against sexual harassment.
Elected officials aren’t subject to what the resolution called “normal avenues of employee discipline,” but should not consider themselves to be above reproach.”
The censure also was the Supervisors’ reminder that Kramer has a duty to “provide a workplace free from sexual harassment. This is what the Board expects of all of its department heads, whether they are appointed or elected.”