April 14, 2010

Settlement ends Becker-Tingle era in Racine politics

Sandra Tingle's allegations of "physical contact" by former Mayor Gary Becker led the city to settle her sexual harassment lawsuit.

The settlement approved by the City Council last week gives no details of the alleged contact, and the city denied all knowledge of the contact in the settlement. But the allegation was strong enough to convince the city to pay Tingle $20,000 in compensatory damages, $5,000 for lost wages and another $25,000 in attorney fees.

Tingle's attorney, Nola Cross, will make as much money as Tingle on the settlement.

The city also agreed to provide Tingle with a letter of recommendation from Mayor John Dickert, and accept Tingle's resignation from her job as Becker's administrative assistant effective July 18, 2008. The agreement effectively reverses the city's decision to fire Tingle and leaves her with a clean employment record. (Read the city's previous 126-page document explaining why she was fired here.)

In exchange, Tingle agreed to drop any current and future lawsuits against the city and she will not seek further employment with the city. She also agreed not to disparage any current or former city employees or officials. The city also agreed to advise its aldermen and officials not to disparage Tingle.

Neither Tingle nor the city admitted to wrong doing in the settlement.

"The parties have entered into this Agreement to buy their peace and to avoid the cost of litigation," the settlement said.

You can read the full settlement here. Below is the letter of recommendation Dickert was required to write for Tingle:

To Whom It May Concern,
Re: Sandra Tingle

Dear Sir/Madame,
Sandra Tingle was employed as the Mayor’s Secretary for the City of Racine, Wisconsin from June 9, 2003 through July 18, 2008. Ms. Tingle resigned from her position to relocate to London, England, where her husband had accepted employment.
In her capacity as the Mayor’s Secretary, Ms. Tingle was responsible for all office support and administrative duties for the Mayor including scheduling appointments, answering phones and working with the public, preparing communications for the City Council, creating Council handbooks and other office literature, maintaining records and communications for City Council proceedings, and reconciling financial data for the Mayor’s travel expenses.
Ms. Tingle demonstrated effective communication and people skills and was able to handle difficult people with ease. In addition, she was organized, reliable, and skilled in a variety of computer programs. Ms. Tingle worked independently and was able to follow through to ensure that jobs were properly completed. She was flexible, willing to work on any project that was assigned to her, and often volunteered to work in areas outside the scope of her primary duties.
I recommend Ms. Tingle be given full consideration for any position for which she may apply.
John Dickert, Mayor
And here's the official statement the city released after reaching the settlement:
Sandra Tingle and the City of Racine have resolved her claim of a hostile work environment and retaliatory termination to their mutual satisfaction. While the City denies any liability or wrongful act towards Ms. Tingle, the City regrets any difficulties Ms. Tingle encountered during her employment with the City. 
The city's settlement wraps up a tumultuous period in the city's history. Tingle walks away with $25,000 and a clean employment record, Becker is in prison for three years and former City Administrator Ben Hughes has a new job in Michigan.

We'd be remiss if we didn't point out Dickert and Tingle had a close relationship before she left the country. Dickert was the Tingle's real estate agent, and was selling their Park Avenue home, until he ran for mayor and transferred the property to another agent. Tingle attended Dickert's victory party at Salute and it's no secret the Tingles were friends of Dickert's going back several years.

That said, people close to the negotiations strongly refuted the mayor was involved in the Tingle settlement. The decision was driven by the City Council, which felt Becker's guilty pleas and other circumstances with the case, made going to court a dicey - and potentially expensive - proposition. The city had already spent $70,000 on attorney's fees on the case, with the potential for tens of thousands of more dollars if Tingle and Cross pushed the case.

No city officials are now talking about the settlement, even off the record. They're likely scared off by the non-disparagement clause in the agreement, but they won't even say that.

With that, it appears the Becker-Tingle era in Racine city politics is over.