By David Skolnick
Failed mayoral candidate DeMaine Kitchen resigned, effective Monday, as chief of staff/secretary to the mayor, a job he’s held since August 2011.
“Unfortunately, this past election did not go as we had hoped,” Kitchen wrote in a letter to Mayor Charles Sammarone. “As a result, it is unlikely that I will be around to continue” working for the city when Youngstown Mayor-elect John McNally IV is sworn in next month.
Kitchen wrote that he resigned “in order to pursue career opportunities in the private sector.”
Kitchen, who earned $74,187 annually, made no mention in his resignation letter about an ongoing sexual harassment complaint filed against him by Lyndsey Hughes, the city’s downtown director of events, special projects and marketing.
Kitchen repeatedly has denied the allegations, calling them politically motivated as Hughes is a supporter of McNally, elected mayor Nov. 5.
The investigation was launched Oct. 7 by Steve Sample, a retired Summit County sheriff’s detective hired by the city. Sample has his own security and investigation firm in Akron, and is being paid $60 an hour with his fee not to exceed $10,000.
The investigation is expected to be finished Friday, said city Law Director Anthony Farris. It’s been slowed as Sample waits for reports from a technology lab checking the legitimacy of sexually explicit text messages on Hughes’ cellphone that her attorneys have said were sent to her by Kitchen. Lab fees are separate from the payment Sample will receive from the city.
“It’s been there for a few weeks,” Farris said.
The rest of the investigation is complete, he said.
Kitchen couldn’t be reached Monday by The Vindicator to comment.
When asked if the investigation played a factor in Kitchen’s decision, Farris and Sammarone said the former city official’s letter doesn’t mention it.
“I have no reason to doubt his rationale,” Farris said.
“I assume he resigned for the reasons he stated in the letter,” Sammarone added. “We’ve got to go by what’s in the letter.”
Kitchen wrote that “it has been a joy serving the city” in the Sammarone administration.
“In a short amount of time, we have accomplished a lot,” he wrote. “The progress made in demolition, code enforcement, Strong Cities Strong Communities, and with the CIRV [a youth crime intervention program] has been incredible.”
Kitchen took a temporary unpaid leave of absence from his city job Sept. 30 to concentrate on his mayoral bid. Around the same time, The Vindicator first reported Hughes’ claims that Kitchen had sexually harassed her on and off since January 2011.
In a letter to Farris, Emily Gilbert, one of Hughes’ three attorneys, said her client complained in “an informal manner” in January 2011 to Sammarone, then city council president, about Kitchen. Sammarone responded: “What do you expect? You are a pretty, young girl,” according to Gilbert’s letter.
“Rather than conduct an investigation,” Sammarone had a meeting with Jamael Tito Brown, then the 3rd Ward councilman; Kitchen, who was the 2nd Ward councilman at the time; and Hughes, who is a city council employee, Gilbert’s letter read. Sammarone told Kitchen not to talk or message Hughes again, according to Gilbert. Kitchen said last month that Hughes’ complaint “was a complete misunderstanding.”
Hughes’ two other attorneys contend in a Sept. 13 letter to Farris that Hughes “experienced sexual harassment, including unwelcomed sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal and physical harassment of a sexual nature” from Kitchen.
Kitchen returned to his city job from his temporary leave Nov. 12, a week after losing the mayoral election to McNally by 11.09 percentage points.
While Kitchen was on leave, Sammarone tapped Sean McKinney, the city’s buildings and grounds commissioner, to replace him. Sammarone said Monday that McKinney will return later this week to that post, finishing out the year as chief of staff.
Kitchen served as 2nd Ward councilman from January 2007 until August 2011, when Sammarone named him chief of staff.
“I feel we got issues — code enforcement, demolition and accountability with time clocks — moving in the right direction,” Sammarone said. “Could it have been better? Yeah.”