A Cook County watchdog’s investigation concluded Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against her former chief of staff was “reasonable,” but said the county needs to come up with a better way to consider complaints of improper behavior by employees when they’re off the clock.
In a summary released Monday, Inspector General Patrick Blanchard noted that the woman who accused then-Preckwinkle chief of staff John Keller of inappropriately touching her in 2016 initially was unwilling to come forward. When the woman decided to do so months later as Preckwinkle geared up to run for mayor, Preckwinkle looked into the woman’s account and took action, Blanchard added.
The woman’s “hesitancy to come forward was reasonable,” Blanchard wrote. “The president’s assertion that she would not take action against an employee based on unsubstantiated rumor is also reasonable.”
Blanchard went on to note a lack of clarity about how to handle allegations relating to county employees’ behavior outside work that could “bring disrepute on the county.” He recommended the process for such cases “be clarified so to eliminate any confusion surrounding whether a report can be filed under these circumstances and how to do so.”
A Preckwinkle spokeswoman said the office recently received the recommendations and have “taken them under advisement.” Stephanie Henson also said the county is putting in place recommendations from an anti-harassment panel Preckwinkle formed in the wake of the Keller firing.
The full report is here. The IG claimed the investigation turned up no “culture of sexual harassment or discrimination.”
* Our old friend Emily Miller helped bring this case to light and she sent out a statement yesterday…
I understand the desire to believe that the culture of sexual harassment and discrimination are pervasive everywhere other than in Cook County government, and it would be nice if that were true.
Based on my personal experience and the experiences shared with me by other women who I believe, I disagree with the finding that there is no pervasive culture of sexual harassment in Cook County government.
Unfortunately, women will continue to miss out on opportunities for professional advancement because of the culture of sexual harassment. The fact is that I could not consider accepting a position in Cook County government because it would have been dangerous for me to work for a man that assaulted my friend and harassed other women I know. If that’s not indicative of a culture of sexual harassment, we need a new measuring stick.
I look forward to the day when the process works for women and whistleblowers and will continue advocating for culture shifts. This finding is not a setback—it’s a spotlight on the work that lies ahead, and I’m ready for it.