A lawsuit was filed last week. It alleged, among other things, that Eureka City Manager Dave Tyson sexually propositioned a former employee of the Eureka Police Department while she was still in the city's employ. It alleged, further, that Tyson had touched the employee "in a suggestive manner." It alleged, further and somewhat murkily, that Tyson had told this employee about "his potential sexual encounter with an elected Eureka official."
A press release was issued on Tuesday. In it, the city of Eureka wrote that the "salacious, sexual" claims made in the lawsuit were total hokum, and that Tyson adamantly denies them. "We are confident that the claims against Mr. Tyson and the City will be thrown out," the city maintained.
The roots of the present suit go back to the hiring of current EPD Chief Garr Nielsen in the spring of 2007. Shortly after Nielsen took over the post, a faction of the department took against him violently. They began spreading word that Nielsen, a married man, was having an extramarital and intradepartmental affair with a police dispatcher named Tawnie Hansen, a married woman and the person now bringing suit against Tyson and the city of Eureka.
Both Nielsen and Hansen (through her attorney) denied that they were having an affair. They said that they were friends, and that Hansen's husband was friends with the chief as well. To underscore the point, Hansen brought an earlier suit against another EPD employee for spreading the rumor, and that now-former employee -- DeeDee Wilson -- settled the case for $10,000.
Now, standing on the outside we civilians have no way of knowing what the absolute facts are in either of these interlinked cases. When we recreate the scene on our desks and kitchen tables, as I encourage you to do, there are no instructions that tell us to insert Tab A into Slot B, or etc. We have to muddle through, and we will never have 100 percent certainty that we will have it right.
It seems to me that these two cases merely present the informed public with a range of questions that, though unanswerable, help us to understand how city government works. Is everyone in Eureka City Hall doing it up, down and sideways 24 hours a day, in every conceivable combination, as if it were the last days of the Roman Empire? Or does everyone just imagine that everyone except them is getting loads of action, resulting in a funky yellow stew of rage inside Fifth and K? Or are both things true, to one degree or another?
One of the above scenarios must be the case. None of them point to what you might call a healthy work environment. The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating claims resulting from the sex-crazed atmosphere at the EPD, and now will spend scads more defending the suit brought by Hansen, whose underlying claim is that Tyson and the city purposefully slow-played the investigation into her claims of harassment in the workplace because Tyson's alleged sexual advances were rebuffed. She is asking for $1.4 million in compensatory damages from the city, and an untold sum in punitive damages. This, too, isn't going away cheaply.
So the taxpayers of Eureka are being asked to subsidize either the saucy fantasies or the saucy facts of their public servants. Our suspicion -- confirmed by the million little whispers that reach our ears from time to time -- is that this has gone on far too long. A call to a former City Hall employee who fled a few years ago basically confirmed this suspicion.
"The place is just a fucking soap opera," the former employee told us Tuesday, before reeling off an eye-popping list of liaisons, rivalries, petty crimes and generally strange workplace behavior. "I was repelled by weirdness and weird people."
So the city government now sets off to spend yet more scarce dollars investigating and/or defending its employees against harassment, real or alleged. (Yes, we know the insurance company picks up much of the tab, but our premiums must be absolutely through the freaking roof by now.) If that's going to happen anyway, we entreat the Eureka City Council to invest a bit more to pry their employees' minds out of the pages of the Penthouse Forum.
It's an absolute mystery why this sex-mad culture seems to fester in and around City Hall. Does it infest any other Humboldt County workplace that you know of? Our former employee had a theory, which they put in their characteristically plainspoken way:"There's too much free time, I think, and they're unattractive to anybody but each other."
Whatever. City Council: Either do some freaking sensitivity training or buy your problem cases tickets to the next orgy in Ferndale, where they can perv out on people other than their co-workers. I'm amazed someone has to tell you this stuff.