Following a rash of sexual harassment complaints against state legislators, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed an independent investigator for complaints against members of New York’s legislative and executive branches.
Cuomo proposed a $200,000 appropriation for a hotline run out of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The money would fund the hotline and a staffer to manage it.
A common theme running through recent complaints: Victims said they were afraid to report harassment.
Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak resigned in January after several women complained he harassed them. One said she would have complained to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, but didn’t after learning Silver had been accused of covering up harassment by yet another assemblyman.
While Silver did refer complaints against Gabryszak to the Ethics Committee, critics fault him for his handling of Assemblyman Micah Kellner’s case. Silver’s office failed to forward allegations against Kellner despite having transcripts of inappropriate online chats between the assemblyman and a young staffer. Silver referred the case only after details became public.
Silver has also taken criticism for approving a $103,000 confidential settlement with a harassment victim. He now has adopted a policy of sending all complaints directly to the Ethics Committee. He said he supports Cuomo’s hotline proposal.
Note: Power is often at the heart of sexual harassment complaints. When one employee has disproportionate control over subordinates, the normal workplace checks and balances may not work. That’s when special initiatives like this are needed.
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