An Oro Valley Town Council member is accused of making offensive comments towards town employees.
At the council meeting Wednesday night, councilors discussed how to handle what some call a repeated pattern of inappropriate behavior by Councilman Mike Zinkin. The incident in question was at the October 21, 2015 meeting.
Zinkin made comments while discussing a community project that had been a long process, saying "...Bayer is still trying to grow a beard...", "...Elisa has new people in her family...", and "...I think that put you in labor at one point, but uh, it worked."
The town employees he was referring to were offended by his remarks about their physical appearance, and filed a complaint. The Oro Valley Human Resource Director Gary Bridget said Wednesday that Zinkin's remarks weren't severe, but he has shown unprofessional behavior in the past.
According to records provided by the city, Zinkin has had nine prior reported incidents over a three year period including allegations of verbal sexual harassment. In 2012, a female Oro Valley town employee said he used a derogatory term in a work-related conversation. The employee did admit to investigators that she responded with profanity, and Zinkin later apologized.
Zinkin had received written and verbal warnings by the town manager and mayor, and voluntarily took an online sexual harassment course in the fall of 2013. On Wednesday town leaders were trying to figure out what they could do to create a safe working environment where people would feel comfortable.
Zinkin was visibly frustrated at the meeting, saying the accusations were an assassination of his character, and when he made the remarks in question on October 21st other council members laughed.
"It's interesting that I didn't create a hostile environment by law," Zinkin said. "I didn't sexually harass anybody. I'm the one who brought forth the code of conduct."
Zinkin left the room for most of the 90 minute discussion. Mayor Satish Hiremath made it clear up for debate wasn't whether or not Zinkin said anything offensive, but what can the council do to prevent future incidents. One idea was to prevent Zinkin from the work spaces of town employees. Council member Brendan Burns said he thought that would bring up constitutional issues.
About a dozen or so of Zinkin's supporters showed up to the meeting. Patti Clemente, an Oro Valley resident for 13 years, says the whole thing was overkill.
"He's here because we put him in office, so to tell him he can't interact with certain people is too much," Clemente said. " So in the end they came to the right decision."
Clemente says she met Zinkin during the recall efforts and liked him because he was active in getting the community involved at meetings.
The town council voted to enforce an existing council policy. Zinkin will interact with staff through meetings arranged by the town manager. He will also have to apologize to the two employees in the most recent complaint. Zinkin was elected in 2012, and was recently the target of the recall election but voters kept him in office.