By David Skolnick
The city hired a retired Summit County sheriff’s detective to serve as investigator into sexual harass- ment claims filed by Lyndsey Hughes, a city council employee, against DeMaine Kitchen, the mayor’s chief of staff/secretary and a mayoral candidate.
Law Director Anthony Farris on Friday hired Steve Sample, who spent 23 years with that sheriff’s department, most of it as a detective.
Sample opened his own security and investigation firm in Akron in January. He will start his investigation Monday and be paid $60 an hour with his fee not to exceed $10,000, Farris said.
“He has a long history of investigation experience,” Farris said.
Sample’s firm specializes in employee misconduct investigations, Farris said.
This is the first time the city is hiring a non-city employee to investigate sexual harassment complaints since council adopted a policy on the matter in 1999.
Hughes, the city’s downtown director of events, special projects and marketing, contends Kitchen, the 2nd Ward councilman before joining the administration of Mayor Charles Sammarone in August 2011, has sexually harassed her on and off since January 2011.
Kitchen, an independent candidate for mayor, strongly denies the claims.
Kitchen also questions the timing of the claim with the Nov. 5 election a month away, and that Hughes is a supporter of John McNally IV, the Democratic nominee for mayor.
Andrew Margolius, one of Hughes’ three Cleveland-based attorneys, issued a prepared statement Friday that read: “Talking about an ongoing sexual harassment claim to the press is symptomatic of the city’s approach to its sexual harassment policy. This city’s lawmakers should be stating that there is a proper investigation going on, it is about sensitive matters, and should discontinue its many efforts to engage television and the media in this process.”
He also wrote that “the city also has not disclosed that it has deflected other, prior letters attempting to privately bring forth the complaint, but instead has inflamed publicity.”
In response, Farris said, “What he says we should only say is what I’ve said. I don’t believe I’ve said anything beyond that.”
Other city officials largely have declined to talk about the sexual harassment complaint.
Sammarone and council members have commented to dispute assertions from Hughes’ attorneys that Kitchen was at a July 24 executive session in which she was suspended for five days for problems related to a downtown jazz festival.
Margolius wrote: “The city and its personnel should refrain from further publicity and undermining the very specific and purposeful sexual harassment process it mandates. It should preserve evidence, including the cellphone of the alleged harasser and it should examine the failed history and unwarranted policy exception concerning the previous complaint of harassment.”
The last part of that statement refers to Hughes’ going in January 2011 to Sammarone, then city council president, about alleged sexual harassment from Kitchen. The three, along with then Councilman Jamael Tito Brown, met about the issue with Sammarone telling Kitchen, “This ... needs to stop,” according to Hughes’ attorneys.
Kitchen has acknowledged the meeting occurred, but said there was no sexual harassment.
“It was a complete misunderstanding, and she left the meeting acknowledging that misunderstanding,” Kitchen said earlier this week.
Kitchen took an unpaid leave of absence from his city job last week until Nov. 11, saying he is concentrating on his election effort.
Sammarone selected Sean McKinney, the city’s buildings and grounds commissioner, Friday as Kitchen’s interim replacement, effective Monday.