City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart announced Tuesday that she will examine sexual harassment and assault within city government, concentrating on payouts and how complaints are handled, as one of her first performance audits as the city’s chief watchdog.
Rhynhart said she was inspired by the allegations of sexual harassment against Sheriff Jewell Williams that surfaced in November, and a $1.25 million settlement paid last year to a police officer who said she was sexually assaulted by a veteran commander.
“That’s very troubling, and it doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident,” Rhynhart said. “We want to make sure the city is providing a workplace where people feel safe.”
Rhynhart is a political newcomer who ousted three-term incumbent Alan Butkovitz in May’s Democratic primary election. Before politics, she was a longtime top aide in the Nutter and Kenney administrations, serving as budget director and chief administrative officer. Her first two audits as controller — on sexual harassment and of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services — are issues that she was familiar with from her prior government service.
Auditors in the Controller’s Office will be looking at the payouts, reporting procedures for sexual harassment victims, policies surrounding sexual harassment, and the city’s investigations and outcomes.
In addition to the $1.25 million paid last year stemming from the police case, the city has paid out $326,500 over the last decade to resolve sexual harassment allegations from its employees, according to city settlement records.
Rhynhart said that in her time as budget director, chief administrative officer, and a political candidate, she has heard employees complain about the city’s sexual harassment policies.
The sexual harassment audit will focus on policies across all departments, including the Sheriff’s Office, and at least two years worth of information on complaints, investigations, and payouts. Rhynhart said she expected the audit to take about three months.
Two women have filed separate lawsuits against the sheriff alleging they were repeatedly harassed in the office by Williams. He has denied the allegations. A third woman received a $30,000 settlement in 2012 after suing Williams for sexual harassment when he was a state representative.
“There appears some need to look at this. It needs a review, especially but not just with the Sheriff’s Office,” Rhynhart said. “Across the city these issues are occurring and perhaps [there aren’t] proper reporting procedures, and I think we need to address it.”
City spokesman Mike Dunn said that the city is reviewing its sexual harassment policies, training and investigatory methods. Currently, complaints of sexual harassment are resolved by either each department’s human resources division or through the Mayor’s Office of Labor Relations.
Rhynhart’s office has also started to audit the behavioral health department, which spends about $1.3 billion each year using city, state and Medicaid funding.
“Money is given to nonprofits to provide services. We are going to look at how effective the service really is, how effective the spend of money is,” Rhynhart said.
The Controller’s Office will be taking a close look at the addiction services run through the department as well as mental health services that help victims of gun violence.
Asked if she’d received complaints about spending in the department, she said: “We have heard some things about the spending there… I just want to do the audit before I comment further.”
Rhynhart said the behavioral health audit will likely take six months to complete.