Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken has made it clear she wants to be the final arbiter of what constitutes professional conduct in Gloucester government.
First, she and her city attorney sharply criticized City Council efforts to create a code of conduct, calling them overreaching. In virtually the same breath, she announced her office was drafting its own set of rules that it expected elected and appointed officials to abide by.
Talk about overreach. It is the mayor’s conduct, as described by those who work or have worked for her, that has the city in this mess. Consider:
-- In January, city Harbormaster T.J. Ciarametaro sued Romeo Theken, members of her administration and the city, saying she created a hostile work environment as retaliation after Ciarametaro served as a plaintiffs’ expert witness in a lawsuit involving the 2015 sinking of the fishing vessel Orin C.
-- In February, the Community Development Director Jill Cahill filed a hostile work environment claim, saying the mayor continues to “degrade, berate and threaten” her colleagues and members of the public. Cahill said the mayor’s outbursts have come in closed-door sessions, in public meetings and via text messages “so many times that it feels like a daily occurrence.”
-- In an April letter to the Gloucester Daily Times, Donna Leete, the city’s longtime, respected human resources director, shared what she described her own harassment by the mayor. Romeo Theken, she said, criticized her performance in front of several other department heads and moved to force her into retirement. Leete, now retired, was not at the meeting and had to hear the news secondhand.
When she confronted Romeo Theken, Leete said, the mayor was less concerned with her actions than how the human resources director found out about them.
“She did not assume responsibility for her hurtful and damaging comments and apologize,” Leete wrote. “Nor did she address any specific performance concerns. Rather, she asked who had reported her comments to me, as she characterized that person’s actions as hurtful.”
Specifics revealed in the complaints, and in interviews with other city workers, describe a mayor who disregards even the most basic precepts of professional conduct. Running fingers through the hair of the state’s finance secretary and saying “look, I’m doing the sexual harassment again!” Telling employees “I will bitch slap you.” Calling certain city councilors “whores who can’t keep their legs closed.” Saying a candidate for a job in the Harbormaster’s Department would be hired only because she was “(sleeping with) everyone in the department.”
These aren’t minor indiscretions that can be written off as a misunderstanding. At best, they show a lack of respect and regard for the city’s public servants. At worst, they constitute the type of bullying and harassment that debases employees and triggers lawsuits.
This is the person to be deciding what is, and what isn’t, proper conduct for those who work and volunteer for the city?
A single complaint might be written off as coming from a disgruntled employee. But the ocean of details coming from respected city officials willing to go public with their concerns paints a different picture. And the fact that Romeo Theken is on her fourth chief administrative officer in less than a year doesn’t inspire hope that things will change. Nor does the fact that she keeps trying to equate city councilors’ conduct with her own.
“I have been on a lot of your Zooms and seen a lot of different things and aggravations and the same thing at the School Committee,” she told councilors Monday night.
“You have to look at all of us,” she said. “Look at our emails, look at everything that we have done. Have you followed everything 100 percent?”
Those are the words of someone looking to deflect criticism, not to lead.
If the mayor truly wants to be in charge of deciding how the city’s code of conduct is applied, she has that right under the City Charter, as city attorney Chip Payson implied in an email to the City Council.
But the truth is this: If any other city employee faced such a long list of complaints they would have been fired long ago.