Seattle leaders vow change after Crosscut reports on HR disarray

A view of the Seattle Municipal Tower and the city's skyline during the evening of Jan. 18, 2018 in Seattle. Credit: Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut

City leaders plan to scrutinize policies and procedures inside the City of Seattle human resources department after two Crosscut stories addressed complaints of both harassment and a toxic work environment.

The first report detailed a group of employees, named the Seattle Silence Breakers, who feel the city's HR department is not taking complaints of harassment, discrimination and sexism seriously. The second examined widespread complaints of a toxic culture within Seattle’s HR department as it transitions to consolidating the city’s disparate personnel offices under one roof.

In a Monday Seattle City Council meeting, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda framed the issues in the context of the broader #MeToo movement, calling on her colleagues to do some internal examination of the city’s response to workplace complaints. “I think this is an opportunity for us to stand up and be in solidarity, especially with the Seattle Silence Breakers, a group of women who have been coming forward in the last two months to be very brave and courageous, to talk about what they see as policy and norms changes that are needed.”

She also said she’s been hearing concerns from city employees about ongoing consolidation efforts in the city’s HR department. Mosqueda, the city’s newest councilmember, intends to examine the city’s HR systems as part of the her 2018 work plan.

“I am working on identifying solutions with the Mayor and colleagues on Council,” Mosqueda said in an email. “These solutions will also be rooted in policy suggestions and ideas we are hearing from the Coalition of Seattle City Unions as the workers on the frontline are best equipped to provide solutions and are the ones who will experience implementation. I am working with the Mayor and council members on issues of harassment and intimidation, as well, and will have more details soon.”

Inside the city’s Department of Human Resources, acting director Melissa Beatty responded to allegations of a toxic work environment in an email to employees. “Over the last few years, our department has undergone significant transformation,” she wrote. “I know that change, and pressures that accompany it, can generate a variety of stressors that impact our work and office culture. I want to assure you that I and your Human Resources Leadership team take those pressures seriously.”

She continued: “As we integrate our HR departments, our culture will continue to change and grow. Our One HR planning includes the need to address our work environment, in collaboration with HR leaders throughout the City. We consulted with the Citywide HR Leadership Team before we determined next steps. Please know that you have recourse if you feel you are being singled out or treated unfairly.”

Additionally, Councilmember Lisa Herbold sent a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan last week, before the Crosscut reports, calling for an extension to the city's statute of limitation for harassment complaints and for re-examining how HR is run in the City of Seattle.


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About the Authors & Contributors

David Kroman

David Kroman

David Kroman is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where he covered city politics.