Tonasket City Council again hears allegations of sexual harassment

Tensions were high at the July 25 Tonasket City Council meeting as three community members addressed allegations regarding sexual harassment.

TONASKET – Tensions were high during the July 25 Tonasket City Council meeting as three community members addressed allegations regarding sexual harassment.

”I want to make sure that folks understand we need to be very careful, as we’re talking about young adults and also minors,” said Mayor Rene Maldonado.

Emily Schell, who spoke during the July 11th meeting, returned to council chambers to once again address her concerns regarding the Tonasket City Pool Manager and allegations of sexual harassment. Schell read a statement to the council and mayor, addressing a list of her concerns while stating she believes “the city has failed to respond” to the circumstances.“Unfortunately, I believe the city is attempting to cover up the sexual harassment of minors,” said Schell.

Schell said her brothers, whom she has custody of, and work as lifeguards for the Tonasket City Pool, made her aware of the concerns regarding the pool manager’s conduct.

“I was appalled by the stories they came home from work with each day about a man with inappropriate behavior,” said Schell.

Schell said that upon learning of the situation, she encouraged her brothers to report the matter to the city, thinking the city would begin looking for new management.

“On Jun. 22, less than a week after the pool was opened, a few of the lifeguards made a verbal report to the city. Later that day, a meeting was called between the lifeguards, their manager and two city employees. I was present for this meeting and heard accounts of what had been taking place at the pool in the short time it had been open. Including, but not limited to, the manager speaking to minors about his genitals, the manager commenting on how cute one of the teen girls looked in her swimsuit, suggesting that he role-played with one of the teen girls as boyfriend and girlfriend, lifting one of the female lifeguard’s swimsuit and placing an ice pack on her back while another lifeguard witnessed, asking the young women what they would do if someone tried to rape them, then trying to demonstrate by running his keys down a young ladies arm and saying, ‘hey big boy,’” said Schell.

Schell continued, “The lifeguards also asked that the city look for new management. One of the young people commented that they wished they had caught it all on camera. The following day the lifeguards received an email letting them know that James Moore would remain their manager and the lifeguards were forbidden from using their cell phones at work even while they were on break.”

Schell stated that one of the young men who worked at the pool asked for her help writing a formal letter of complaint to the city.

“He also gathered signatures from other lifeguards, parents and community members. On Wednesday, Jun. 28, Granger turned in his report and on Friday, Jun. 30, the city fired Granger Sutton in retaliation. This practice is illegal and Granger should be compensated for lost wages,” said Schell.

The woman said she has been very vocal about the “unacceptable” behavior of the manager and how the City of Tonasket has handled the matter. The council heard from two other community members on the matter.

“My comment is, I think it’s important that the kids who are down there at the pool know that some form of action has been taken,” said James Caddy

Caddy said he encouraged his son to do the right thing and speak up.

“I’ve worked with kids for 27 years in different capacities. This should never, ever, be taking place with kids,” said Caddy, adding that his son and other lifeguards who spoke up believe the city did nothing on their behalf.

Community member Jordan Williams said Granger Sutton, allegedly fired in retaliation, needs to be compensated by the city for his lost wages. She said she doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the other lifeguards have seen a considerable reduction in their hours since this all has unfolded.

“Last week, the city held individual interviews with the lifeguards about the manager’s misconduct, but he remains in a position of authority above minors he has continued to harass. This will not do. James Moore needs to be fired and if that results in the shutting down of the pool, all the lifeguards should be compensated for lost wages. It would be wrong to make these young people pay the price for the city’s negligence in dealing with these sexual harassment allegations,” said Williams.

Williams continued, “The definition of sexual harassment is a behavior characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation.”

She said she believes the statements of the minor lifeguards should be taken incredibly seriously.

“They are so much more vulnerable than a regular employee,” said Williams.

Mayor Maldonado thanked all those who commented on the matter.

“This is a very, very difficult and complicated situation,” said Maldonado.

Maldonado said when the city was first made aware of the allegations, they were addressed.

“Personally, the allegations are very disturbing,” said Maldonado.

Schell said she was present for the meeting and heard multiple young women speak up.

“Just know, we are doing everything we can,” said Maldonado.

Maldonado assured the community that the city is taking the matter seriously.

There was some further discussion from the crowd.

“This is a possible litigation issue. It will not be discussed in an open public meeting. It will be discussed, more than likely, at some point in time, depending on what happens and depending on what’s founded, with an attorney. Putting someone on trial in an open public meeting is not what we can do here,” said Councilwoman Teagan Levine.

Levine said there are rules and policies to be followed.

“We cannot continue this conversation here. I want to say this, I am doing my best,” said Maldonado.