If you tuned into last night's Hyattsville City Council meeting wondering if there would be any reaction to the recently filed federal lawsuit alleging sexual harassment on the city police force, keep wondering.
City council did discuss the lawsuit, filed last month by former Hyattsville police officer Marsha Lessard, but only behind closed doors at the tail end of the meeting. Council members unanimously approved a motion to enter closed session to discuss the case with city attorney Richard Colaresi, among other topics.
After the meeting, which ended around 11 p.m. following the hour-and-a-half long closed session, city council members were reluctant to talk about the case in any detail as they filed out of council chambers. Police Chief Doug Holland was not present at the meeting.
Mayor Marc Tartaro would not comment on specific details about the lawsuit, but said that sexual harassment has no place in the workplace.
"In my day job I work in an organization that has a zero tolerance policy. I believe that that is an appropiate policy to have for any workplace," said Tartaro, emphasizing the word "any." Tartaro works for the Smithsonian Institute where he oversees architectural projects.
When asked if he had been aware of any complaints about the workplace culture in the Hyattsville city police department, Tartaro had no comment. Nor would he say when he first became aware that a lawsuit had been filed.
"At some point we'll be able to provide more, but I can't get ahead of the lawyers," said Tartaro.
Attorneys for the city have three weeks to file a response to Lessard's lawsuit.
But when asked about the high rate of legal claims filed against the city over recent years, Tartaro gave a lengthy response and acknowledged that the underlying reasons for that rate need to be examined.
"Can one look at the management of the city, not just the police department, but the city, in relation to litigation and claims against the city over, say, a decade? To go back and look at that and see what has happened and what trends are or the level of claims commensurate to the size of a municipality?" Asked Tartaro, rhetorically, before continuing. "There's always a blip where something happens. Are we were we should be, in terms of the normal day to day operations of the city? Well, we're looking at that. When we have a handle on that, an assessment of that, you'll get a story."
Over the last 10 years, the city of Hyattsville and its police department has been a defendant in at least eight federal lawsuits. Four of those suits are still pending.
The city council did, however, vote on a few police department measures, giving unanimous approval for anti-corruption training for police supervisors. They also gave their blessing to a measure reclassifying two acting police corporal positions into full time corporal positions, resolving a snafu which last month had delayed approval of the 2013 fiscal year budget.