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Mayor Gresk on city bullying incident: 'Wheaton is not immune'

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 5:42 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 6:38 p.m. CDT

WHEATON – A week after a police investigation involving a case of bullying in a Wheaton city department came to light, officials said that the city addressed the allegations and is ready to move on.

An investigation by the Chicago Tribune delved into a case regarding a city employee who had suffered workplace bullying that "was tolerated and ignored for years."

The employee endured taunts, abuse and a case of alleged assault involving a glow stick that city officials deemed a misdemeanor battery, according to the police reports uncovered by the Tribune. An official police investigation earlier this year determined that there was some degree of bullying, but no charges were pressed due to the unwillingness of the victim to do so and because the stories told by those involved were conflicted.

The employees in the Public Works Department reportedly behind the bullying were suspended for a week without pay in February and the department took additional sensitivity training after the event, according to City Manager Don Rose. The supervisors of the department were also reprimanded.

Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk said that he was comfortable with the reaction of the city's senior staff to the incident.

"It was reprehensible behavior and these people should have known better," he said. "I feel sorry, real compassion for the person who was the victim of these events that had occurred apparently for months and months."

Gresk said that he was unhappy that the behavior went on for so long without being reported, but that the city had "dealt with it and reinforced the policy we have."

The Wheaton City Council was not informed of the incident until April of this year, because the council is not involved in all personnel issues, according to Rose, who handed down the punishments. Rose said that there were many factors that went into the level of discipline, but believed it to "be appropriate for the actions that could be supported by factual evidence."

"The behavior was unacceptable and not tolerated," he said. "As soon as the administrators here in the city became aware of it, there was an immediate investigation that was completed."

Rose said that the inappropriate behavior was "confined to one group in the Public Works Department," and did not involve the entire department.

There are no plans to update any city policies in the wake of the incident, said Rose. He also said that the city's code of conduct, including its position on coworker treatment, can be found in the first chapter of the employee manual and that this incident was clearly against the code. The city also maintains a three year schedule for all employees to undergo harassment awareness training.

Gresk said that these were problems faced by people and institutions around the country.

"I think it's important for people to remember that Wheaton is not immune from this stuff," he said.

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