Six Madison council members took the rare step of asking one of their colleagues to resign last week.
A Jan. 4 letter (PDF) sent to Ald. Brian Solomon asked him to step down in the wake of charges he sexually assaulted and harassed an assistant city clerk, after they had been out drinking together in April 2010. The state Department of Justice, the Dane County District Attorney's Office, and the city of Madison all investigated, but none pursued charges.
In their letter, the alders write: "Given the eyewitness accounts and the documented emails, we find your personal statements to be both disturbing and disingenuous. Additionally, when asked what you would do differently if you could go back, you reply that you would change nothing and could in fact pursue another person in the same manner because you have done nothing wrong. We find this statement shocking, and it raises concern not just for your past activity but for your future ability to interact with city employees and others in your official capacity on the City Council."
In a Jan. 5 email response (PDF), Solomon said he will not step down. He wrote that the culture's history of overlooking sexual crimes has "rightfully resulted in a situation in which our sympathies automatically lie with the accuser. However, that begs the question of how to respond or handle the situation when the accusations are actually false." He added: "I need to make very clear that I am entirely innocent of everything of which I have been accused."
So, does the matter end there?
Ald. Lisa Subeck, who led the effort asking Solomon to resign, says, "I'm not really sure. It was important we didn't stay silent, because it's important to say he isn't above the law."
Subeck says she needs to talk to her colleagues to see if they want to push the matter further.
City attorney Michael May says "there isn't much law on this." However, if there's a complaint made by a "resident taxpayer," the council can start censure hearings, which could result in removing an alder from office.
"To remove an elected alderman requires a complaint be filed, and then there is a trial-like procedure in front of the council," May says. A three-fourths vote of the council is required to remove the alder.
But the complaint can only be for "neglect of duty, official misconduct or malfeasance." Would the complaint against Solomon qualify?
Says May: "I can't comment on that."
In the company of men
Two of the alders who signed the letter asking Solomon to resign have had harassment complaints filed against them.
While the charges against Alds. Tim Bruer and Chris Schmidt are less serious than the charges against Solomon, the complaints suggest boundary issues.
In 2009, Assistant City Clerk Tammy Peters complained that during a council meeting, Bruer, while chairing the meeting for then-Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, made an inappropriate swipe of the hand towards Peters (see Madison.gov, 7/30/2009). The city attorney's office investigated but found little evidence to substantiate the complaint.
In 2007, a 31-year-old woman called the police on Schmidt, complaining that he was harassing her via email and phone. According to the police report (PDF), Schmidt contacted the woman through MySpace in January 2007, when he first ran for council (an election he lost) and was looking for support. The woman corresponded at first but eventually stopped. She told him to stop writing and blocked him when his messages became "creepy" and angry. Then the woman reported several hang-up phone calls from Schmidt, who also allegedly began emailing the woman's friends about her.
On March 26, 2007, she emailed Schmidt: "You just called me at 4:21 p.m., didn't say anything when I answered... Your behavior is not acceptable nor is it welcomed. If you contact me again, I will notify the authorities."
Schmidt called once more, so the woman called police. Once the police contacted Schmidt, all contact ceased. No charges were filed.
Today, Schmidt denies any wrongdoing and says he accidentally pocket-dialed the woman once. "While I think it was an accident, she had every right to raise the complaint, and I think it was treated very fairly.
"The complaint there is a different order of magnitude," he adds. "Ald. Solomon was accused of sexual assault. The district attorney believes he broke the law."