Update: Click here to download the Equal Rights Division's full report dismissing Tingle's complaint.
City Administrator Ben Hughes has a reputation for being a "buttoned-down" manager at City Hall. In his own words, he's the "guy that wears a suit every day to the office, even on Fridays."
So sexual harassment accusations against him back in August came as a surprise. Former City Hall employee Sandra Tingle made a series of sensational, if somewhat bizarre, claims against Hughes and Mayor Gary Becker accusing them of creating a hostile work environment. The fact that those claims came a few weeks after Tingle was fired on July 18 raised some flags, but the complaint was sent to the state Equal Rights Division for investigation.
While the investigation was underway, Tingle's attorney released salacious documents to the press claiming Hughes gave her an over-night bag and the mayor used inappropriate language.
The city hired an outside attorney to investigate and found no substance to the report. Now, the state is backing up the city's findings.
An investigator with the Equal Rights Division released a report on Nov. 26 dismissing Tingle's complaint and refusing to move forward with a formal hearing. Tingle and her attorney, Nola Cross, can appeal the decision, but the ruling largely ends their case.
The complaint arrived at City Hall on Monday. In an interview in his office Monday afternoon, Hughes spoke out about Tingle's claims and the state's ruling. In a controlled tone - there were no signs of anger - Hughes described Tingle and Cross as "unethical" and as perpetrators of intentional lies designed to ruin his and Becker's careers.
"It's very sad, and also frustrating, that a small segment of our society, such as Sandra Tingle and Nola Cross, lack the integrity to use the law as it was intended," Hughes said. "Sexual harassment laws were designed for people who need that help ... anyone who considers themselves a feminist should be outraged at how they used the law."
Tingle's complaint cost the city thousands of dollars in legal bills, Hughes said. The case had to be handled by an outside law firm because a number of city employees were interviewed.
"None of this needed to happen," Hughes said. "Her (Tingle's) dismissal was caused by her own poor actions as an employee."
He added that Cross and Tingle owed Racine residents an apology for making false allegations.
"Citizens should know democracy worked here in recognizing a fraudulent claim," Hughes said.
The Division of Equal Rights report revealed the three witnesses who testified on Tingle's behalf during the complaint. They included Kay Collins-Schulz, who testified Mayor Becker swore in front of her and made a second lewd comment; Cindy Wanek, a health department employee, who testified Becker made additional inappropriate comments; and Alderman Jeff Coe, who said he had heard the mayor had used swear words to refer to women.
Investigator Christine Brunow concluded there was no evidence to support Tingle's claims.
On a personal level, Hughes said support from coworkers and city residents helped him through a tumultuous first year on the job. Despite a public grilling, including ugly accusations against his character, Hughes said he is more confident then ever that Racine is a good fit for him.
"I have not lost faith in Racine," he said. "I've chosen the right place to spend, hopefully, the rest of my career."
Hughes said he and Becker have been silent on Tingle's complaint out of their professional obligation not to address her firing. But now that the complaint was been settled by the state, Hughes said he was happy to defend his reputation on the record.
Hughes said the incident has not changed him as an administrator. He doesn't feel the need to turn into a recluse or change procedures at the office. He added City Hall didn't "miss a beat" through the turmoil.
"This didn't derail any of the good work that's going on in the city," Hughes said.
Hughes also addressed a lingering rumor Cross filed a complaint against him at a previous job. In fact, he said, an employee resigned because of a medical issue and Cross represented her in working out a benefits package. There were no charges of harassment, Hughes said.
The City Council is in the process of sorting out the future of Tingle's position. Becker asked the council to fund the full-time administrative assistant position. A retired city employee is working the job now for 32 hours a week.
We'll have the full story shortly, but for now:
The state has "unequivocably rejected" the claims of sexual harassment filed in July by Sandra Tingle, who was fired as the mayor and city administrator's assistant at City Hall, according to Ben Hughes, city administrator.
The state's rejection came Wednesday, in a seven-page report that was just received at City Hall today.
Our earlier story about her complaint is here.