The Hanford City Council Tuesday censured City Councilman Art Brieno for sexual harassment of a city employee in a tension-packed meeting where council members and the general public harshly criticized Brieno for his conduct. Brieno admitted mistakes but defended his right to question the employee’s actions toward his constituents.
The most biting criticism came from Diane Sharp (District C Northeast) who called Brieno’s reasons for his actions “nonsensical and disgusting” adding that “his hubris blows me away.”
The censure resolution—passed 4-1 with Brieno’s abstention— condemned Brieno’s conduct toward Community Development Director Darlene Mata.
Sharp’s proposed resolution to strip Brieno of all his monthly pay except $1 failed for a lack of a second.
The city is still facing a $1.25 million lawsuit from Mata and a new sexual discrimination lawsuit from former City Finance Director Paula Lofgren. The council rejected her initial claim which is routine in these kinds of cases.
Brieno (District E Southwest) denied the allegation in an investigator’s report that he doesn’t like to see women in power positions. He cited Michelle Brown, who runs Main Street Hanford, as an example of a woman in an important position who he supports.
While Brieno spoke the other council members looked at him but Sharp looked straight ahead not casting her head his way. In previous council meetings on other matters Sharp has shaken her head in disagreement when apparently she hears comments she doesn’t agree with.
In continuing his remarks, Brieno said, “I never asked anyone to fire Darlene. Never!”
Brieno admitted “character defects” and apologized for his actions but regarding Mata he said “…she wasn’t always truthful.” He gave examples involving his constituents’ projects.
Council member John Draxler said “it was his mistakes that was (sic) the demise of himself.” He characterized the situation as one of “…two people not getting along.”
Draxler said the city made mistakes in how the situation was handled. “We can minimize damage by showing that we don’t condone these (Brieno’s) actions.”
During the public comment period six people supported Brieno while five condemned him with some calling for his resignation.
Brieno’s treatment of Mata was called “sexist and discriminatory” by Hanford Mall General Manager Joanne Doerter. She called Mata forthright, professional and honest. She said she hopes that Mata not only wins the $1.2 million suit but then also sues Brieno in civil court.
Emily Bernias said she experienced sexual discrimination in the military and added “if I thought for one minute you were that type of man I wouldn’t be up here.” She said the people criticizing him had “…no right to throw stones at you.” She said they live in glass houses.
Brieno reclaimed his council seat February 16 after verbally resigning in the council chambers on January 26. He said the reason for rescinding his resignation is that the city breached an agreement with him.
As part of the censure, as of March 2 Brieno will be stripped of his committee assignments and will only be able to communicate with staff through City Manager Mario Cifuentez. Brieno will also have to undergo sensitivity training.