WENY News - Utah County commissioner accused of sexual harassment, intimidat

Utah County commissioner accused of sexual harassment, intimidation, bullying

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Katie McKellar

PROVO, UT -- Utah County Commissioner Greg Graves is facing calls for his resignation amid allegations of sexual harassment and bullying after his fellow commissioners decided Wednesday that the complaints against him should become public.

Graves is adamantly denying any wrongdoing, saying he plans to serve the remainder of his term. And Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said Wednesday there will be no criminal investigation related to the allegations leveled against Graves.

Several hours after Graves' two colleagues on the County Commission approved an appeal to make the complaints public Wednesday, the Utah County Attorney's Office released the records - more than 100 pages that include emails and reports written by employees detailing uncomfortable encounters with Graves.

The records were compiled by the county attorney's office as part of an investigation to see whether Graves had violated any county policies. The records - in which names and other information are heavily redacted - include a report written by an employee alleging that Graves, while sitting next to her in a golf cart on May 4, "rubbed my leg just above the knee and laughed and said, 'Don't show it if you don't want it touched.'"

The employee also wrote about repeated conversations in which she alleges Graves talked to her about his sex life, according to the county documents.

The records also include a "notice of charge of discrimination" sent to the county from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which that female employee wrote she had been "harassed and discriminated against based on my gender" and subjected to unlawful retaliation.

Graves' response

The records do not include the report detailing findings of the investigation by the county attorney - which Graves says clears him of wrongdoing "100 percent."

"It is with no doubt and hesitation that I have done nothing wrong in my capacity as a commissioner," he said. "I will do absolutely everything in my ability to defend myself and prove myself to be truthful and categorically deny any wrongdoing."

That report or findings of conclusion detailing the county's investigation is expected to be released at a later date, perhaps even Thursday, county officials said.

But one commissioner who said he has seen the attorney's findings says the report shows "a pattern of abusive behavior," including "intimidation, bullying and threats," and he called for Graves to resign.

"The conclusion of that investigation confirmed my personal feelings," Commissioner Nathan Ivie wrote in a Facebook post. "He abuses his power, intimidates employees and is vindictive to those who disagree with him. This type of abuse of power cannot be allowed."

Graves, in a phone call Wednesday, dismissed the allegations as "attacks" attempting to "stop me from doing what I promised the voters of Utah County I would do."

"I ask people to take notice of my work and not the slanderous words of a couple of people who are attempting to stop me from doing my work, which I will do through the remainder of my term," Graves told KSL.

Elected in 2014, Graves has slightly more than a year left in his term.

Complaints

The same employee that alleges Graves touched her leg while sitting next to her in a golf cart also wrote that on the same golf trip, Graves told her "how he was unhappy in his marriage and wanted to get divorced.

"He asked me about the type of guys I have dated," the employee wrote. "He asked me if I date men who are divorced. … He told me that once you're married, it's harder to stop once you start making out."

On the drive home, the employee said Graves "talked about how he could get sex anywhere and that there were women attracted to the power he has as a commissioner."

The next day after the golf trip, the employee states in the report that Graves said "he envied that I was single and said that he hates being married" and asked if she had ever "looked him up on the internet."

"He told me how he was caught on Ashley Madison," the employee wrote, referring to a website for people seeking affairs.

The employee also wrote Graves "said that I was uptight and that there are things I could do to not be so uptight. He said that sex relieves stress."

The employee also wrote of an incident the week of May 8 when she alleges that Graves "turned around, lifted his jacket up and swung his bottom in my face saying, 'Kick it, it's the last time you're going to be able to.'"

"I just looked at the ground until he was done," the employee wrote.

The records also include multiple written accounts of an alleged incident on Oct. 13 when Graves came "very red-faced" and "agitated" in the county offices asking why he had not received his paycheck.

According to the report, Graves called an employee a "worthless piece of (expletive)" and that she "should have been fired for the last time she screwed things up."

Calls for resignation

Ivie said in an interview later Wednesday that Graves has caused "significant morale problems" with many county employees, noting that six months ago a county employee came into his office to speak out.

"She was in tears; she was shaking and trembling because of the verbal lashing she had received from Commissioner Graves, and she didn't know where else to go so she came (to me)," Ivie said. "And unfortunately, that's not been an isolated incident."

Ivie said he's had "several other employees" in his office sharing similar experiences.

"They're scared to speak out because they're afraid of the retaliation, and that's an unacceptable - unacceptable standard to have as an employee," he said, adding that Graves shows "incredibly inappropriate conduct for an elected official."

Ivie said if Graves doesn't resign, "I will look to censure him, remove his portfolio assignments and take the required steps to limit his power to prevent future abuse."

Cedar Hills Mayor Gary Gygi, who is also chairman of the Mountainland Association of Government's regional transportation committee of which Graves is a member, also called on Graves to "do the right thing and resign immediately," saying he trusts Ivie's judgment.

Graves, however, said he doesn't intend to resign, and insists that the county investigation cleared him "100 percent … of any wrongdoing when it pertains to sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, and I look forward to that being released."

Appeal approved

The records were released Wednesday only after Ivie and Commissioner Bill Lee decided to approve an appeal to a denied public records request for documents related to complaints of harassment, including sexual harassment, filed by the Daily Herald last month.

Cynthia Love, attorney for the Herald, said the newspaper's request was denied wrongfully under state open records laws, arguing that the Utah Supreme Court has been clear that "harassment complaints about public officials are of paramount public importance."

KSL also filed a public records request for the complaints.

"The public's right to know about allegations of misconduct directed at public officials, in particular elected officials, is going to outweigh any interest in withholding those records," Love said.

Pona Sitake, with the Utah County Attorney's Office, called the situation "unique" because the newspaper's request came in the middle of the county attorney's investigation into claims against Graves, so the county denied the request to prevent jeopardizing the integrity of the investigation.

"We received a notice of a claim on Oct. 30," Sitake said. "We didn't complete our investigation until Dec. 4. We received a request on Nov. 3. They came right in the middle of our investigation.

"As you're aware, here in the county, employees like to talk," he added. "If we had let this get out to the public and it was published in the paper about these allegations … that would taint the investigation. It would inflame other witnesses against each other, it would allow them to corroborate their allegations, and it would just ruin the process."

Once the investigation concluded Monday, Sitake said his office felt it could then reclassify the documents as public, but he recommended the names of the people making the allegations be redacted for privacy.

Fallout?

Graves did not attend Wednesday's meeting where the appeal was granted. In an interview after the meeting, Lee and Ivie said Graves has been "out of town" over the past week. He was given the opportunity to call in for the hearing, they said.

The two commissioners said they don't know what will come of the investigation or whether there will be any fallout for Graves.

"This is like uncharted territory for us," Lee said. "I have no idea where this will lead."

Under Utah law, elected officials can only be removed for high crimes or certain misdemeanors.

And while Buhman said no criminal case will result from the county's investigation into Graves, Lee said it's possible the issues could be raised as part of a potential civil case.

Complaints against Graves come amid a national wave of victims of alleged sexual harassment stepping forward to accuse men in Hollywood, politics and the media of misconduct.

"We're seeing a national movement right now to help eliminate the abuse of power," Ivie said. "I have my responsibility to the citizens of Utah County to make sure that that abuse does not occur in this building."

KSL

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