Bob Bernick’s Notebook: Trouble Brewing for Becker

Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker is on the verge of his most difficult political problem in his eight years in office.

Three female city police officers have filed a notice of intent to sue the city over sexual harassment claims.

I won’t go into all the details here.

But it is clear that Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank allowed a former top commander, Rick Findlay, to retire with full 20-year benefits after it was shown by two different inquiries that Findley at the very least mishandled personnel matters concerning the three female officers, and at worst did indeed sexually harass them.

Burbank says Findlay’s action didn’t constitute a firing offense.

And so Findlay was put on paid administrative leave for about five months until he reached his 20-year service, and then retired with full pension and benefits.

Becker apparently knew about Burbank’s actions – and thus knew something about the alleged sexual harassment of the female officers.

Now, Becker has prided himself on his administration’s forward thinking and actions concerning equality for women and minorities.

He led the battle several years ago to get an anti-discrimination ordinance passed protecting gays and lesbians in employment and housing.

Certainly it was a tough call on Findlay: Do you deny a man his pension for a non-firing offense (non-firing in the eye of his boss, Burbank)?

But the alternative seems somehow sleazy.

Here is a guy (Findlay) whose inexcusable actions, it appears, were confirmed by official inquiries, and he gets five months of paid leave and then is allowed to retire with full benefits.

So, you sexually harass three female employs (if this is the case) and you get a five-month paid vacation?

Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

And it sounds like a pretty good political opportunity for two folks challenging Becker this year: City Council Chairman Luke Garrott and former state legislator Jackie Biskupski.

Garrett hammered Becker in public at a City Council meeting this week.

And for Becker – who is usually a pretty high profile mayor – it’s a time to keep his head down.

But that’s hard to do when you are running for re-election.

I mean, sooner or later even Hillary Clinton is going to have to meet the press in her presidential race.

Becker also appointed a new fire chief just as the man – a longtime Salt Lake City fireman – was being investigated on a complaint by a minority female firefighter on a race discrimination issue.

Now, the fire chief’s situation is unproven as of now, and there are some other issues in that complaint that may swing the decision in the fire chief’s favor.

But still, on top of the confirmed three female police officers’ complaints, Becker is not looking good.

If nothing else, Becker likely showed poor judgment at the time of his actions – or in these cases, his inactions.

Over the last eight years, Becker has run a fine administration, by all accounts.

His only major screw-up is when he suggested that the new multi-million-dollar public safety building be built on the same block as the beautiful main city library, just east of the City Building.

But he backed away from that decision, and the new public safety building – which is just as beautiful as the library – has been constructed on the block east of the library.

Ant it is a wonderful addition to the city landscape.

So, in the end, Becker got over that public relations blunder.

This new public relations blunder – and I think it is fair to call it that – will be harder.

That’s because it involves the lives of three police officers who have put their lives on the line in public service.

And it can’t be fixed by a new, beautiful building.

It likely can’t be fixed at all now – Findlay is retired and out of the mayor’s control.

Some action, I suppose, could be taken against Burbank.

But that could make Becker look real petty.

After all, Becker knew about Burbank’s non-firing decision concerning Findlay – and the mayor did nothing about that.

Becker issued a statement saying there is no tolerance for sexual harassment in the city administration and blah, blah, blah.

But apparently there is some tolerance for sexual harassment in some situations.

The thing that really looks bad is the five months of paid administrative leave.

I don’t know the internal city personnel regulations.

But all my working life I’ve been an at-will employee – meaning my bosses could fire me for any reason, at any time.

I don’t know what options Burbank/Becker had concerning Findlay, but what happened certainly doesn’t seem fair – especially to the three female officers who are suing the city.

Becker has several months before he faces city voters in an early-August primary election.

And a recent UtahPolicy poll by Dan Jones & Associates shows he only had 33 percent of the vote in an April survey conducted before this latest issue broke.

Becker needs to get out front of the Findlay issue if he can.

Admit he made a mistake – maybe made a big mistake – and let city voters know it won’t happen again, he’s sorry for it, and he’ll give greater examination to claims of sexual/minority harassment in the future.

For the Findlay affair is casting a long shadow over Becker’s re-election right now.