Only a handful of sexual harassment incidents are reported to the King County Human Resources Division every year, which County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles and others argue is due to underreporting. Photo from the 2018 Seattle Women’s March by Cindy Shebley/Flickr

Only a handful of sexual harassment incidents are reported to the King County Human Resources Division every year, which County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles and others argue is due to underreporting. Photo from the 2018 Seattle Women’s March by Cindy Shebley/Flickr

King County Council passes sexual harassment reform policy

Specifics of each agency’s protocols and funding for training still need to be sorted out.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the King County Council unanimously passed an ordinance on Monday, June 25 that requires the county government overhaul its sexual harassment policies. Now comes the hard part—actually achieving structural change in a county bureaucracy consisting of over 14,000 employees.

Introduced earlier this month by Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the bill mandates that the county council and all of the various county departments and agencies rewrite their sexual harassment and discrimination policies, which haven’t been updated since 2002.

Specifically, the ordinance calls upon agencies and elected officials to develop new definitions of sexual harassment, assault, and “inappropriate conduct,” establish procedures for reporting and addressing incidents of such misconduct—such as establishing an informal reporting process for incidents that don’t necessarily meet the legal standard of harassment—and produce cost estimates for training county employees and managers in the new policies. Per the legislation, agencies also have to use the findings and recommendations from the 2016 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report on workplace harassment as a blueprint for crafting their new policies.

“We will be rebooting our existing efforts to have a inclusive, safe, and respectful workplace for all employees,” Kohl-Welles said prior to the vote. “Approval of this legislation means that we will really be walking our talk.”

The various branches of government will then have to report back to the council in September with their updated protocols, as well as deliver biennial updates on the number of filed harassment or discrimination complaints to help measure the effectiveness of the new procedures.

Part of the impetus for bringing forward the legislation was the statistically improbable low number of reported sexual harassment incidents received by the county’s human resources department. According to Cameron Satterfield, a spokesperson for the Human Resources Division, only one case of sexual harassment was reported to human resources in 2015, one in 2016, and none were filed in 2017, which councilmember Kohl-Welles and advocates argue is most likely due to chronic underreporting, not the nonexistence of incidents of misconduct.

When the measure was first introduced on June 6, judges from the King County District Court system pushed back against the legislation, arguing that any directive issued towards the courts by the council would be undermine notions of judicial independence in the public eye. After hearing those concerns, the council adjusted the legislation to request that the courts merely give “consideration” to the ordinance.

Even after the various departments update their policies, funding still has to be identified to provide initial and ongoing training sessions. Before the vote, Council member Claudia Balducci (a co-sponsor of the ordinance) told Seattle Weekly that the fall’s upcoming county budgeting process will ultimately determine the teeth of the ordinance in the long-term. “The next thing we’re going to have to do is figure out a budget,” she said. “One of the pitfalls when you implement a new policy is you train everybody and check the box and you move on,” said Balducci. “You have to keep on re-enforcing it with everybody. That takes a lot of effort which means staff time and resources.”

As Balducci put it, “We have to show that we’re serious.”

More in News

The Council recognized the AFIS program as it celebrates 30 years of assisting law enforcement throughout King County. Councilmembers, AFIS staff and King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht join AFIS regional manager, Carol Gillespie. Photo courtesy of King County.
King County Council recognizes county’s Automated Fingerprint Information System

For three decades, AFIS has helped law enforcement solve thousands of cases.

‘This might have been a once in a generation opportunity’: Kenmore’s Lakepointe deal grinds to a halt

City officials unsure of what comes next for the more than 50 acre industrial site.

King County Flood Control District approves 2019 Budget on Nov. 5. Photo courtesy of King County Flood Control District.
King County Flood Control District approves $93 million budget

The 2019 District Budget will maintain current flood protection services.

Student veterans receive new resource center at UW Bothell

The Veterans Resource Center at UW Bothell was created after student veterans indicated they wanted a space designated for themselves.

Bothell voters approve public safety ballot measures

As of election night on Nov. 6, both the levy and bond were passing.

Democrats lead in 46th Legislative District

Voters are sending David Frockt, Gerry Pollet and Javier Valdez back to Olympia.

Democrats lead in 1st Legislative District

Derek Stanford and Shelley Kloba were successful in their re-election bids.

DelBene leads in 1st Congressional District in early returns

As of election night, incumbent Suzan DelBene was leading with 69 percent of the vote, to Jeffrey Beeler’s 31 percent.

UW Bothell Student Veterans Services held an Open House and Coffee event during this year’s Welcome Week and remains the main arm in helping veterans. The new resource center adds to this support. Photo courtesy of Marc Studer, UW Bothell
UW Bothell opens new veterans resource center on campus

The new Veteran Resource Center is designed to connect veterans and build relationships.

In Kenmore, the SMP applies to Lake Washington, Sammamish River, and Swamp Creek and associated wetlands. Bothell’s SMP, which was last updated in 2013, also governs development next to the Sammamish River (pictured) and Swamp Creek, along with North Creek. Photo courtesy of Mark Hussein
Bothell, Kenmore look to protect shorelines

Shoreline master programs protect and restore valuable aquatic resources for future generations.

Ashe joins Bothell as new economic development manager

She will work cooperatively with both long-time and future business owners in the city.

Said Farzad reportedly called in numerous bomb threats to state agency offices in Olympia. No bombs have been found, but the state agencies are increasing police presence and bomb-sniffing dogs. Reporter File Photo
Suspended psychiatrist suspected of making bomb threats

The suspect was previously convicted of telephone harassment of a Bothell insurance company and has reportedly called in numerous threats from various countries. No bombs have been found.