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Preckwinkle aide barred from her offices after sexual harassment incident
A longtime Preckwinkle associate was suspended, barred from the president's offices and retrained on the county's anti-harassment rules. He is the second close Preckwinkle aide to face discipline.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Crain's Chicago Business
by A.D. Quig

A special assistant in Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's offices was disciplined for sexual harassment and barred from entering Preckwinkle's office or the Cook County Board room, according to county records obtained by Crain's.

The county's independent inspector general, Patrick Blanchard, reported "confirmed acts of sexual harassment" by a special assistant in the county's Bureau of Administration against a fellow employee. In a Jan. 15 report, Blanchard said others in Preckwinkle's office reported the harassment, which was the subject of "a thorough investigation" by the county's Equal Employment Opportunity Officer.

Blanchard wrote that "minimally appropriate discipline was imposed upon the Special Assistant, and that the Special Assistant is now barred from entering the Offices of the President where the victim works subject to certain conditions." He did not name the employee.

Personnel records obtained by Crain's through a Freedom of Information request show that Al Kindle, one of three special assistants within the Bureau of Administration, was recommended for discipline by the EEO in May 2019.

His punishment, according to a communication from then-Bureau Chief Martha Martinez, was a five-day suspension, mandated anti-harassment training within two weeks of his return, and that he was "not authorized to enter the President's Office" or county board rooms "unless previous permission has been granted by the Chief Administrative Officer."

Martinez took disciplinary action "with the goal of improving your adherence to County policy and maintaining a work environment free from harassment and discrimination."

Kindle has a long history with Preckwinkle, dating back to her time as alderman. He served for 15 years in her 4th Ward office as legislative director and chief of staff. He worked on several of her campaigns and others, including Barack Obama’s congressional bid. He has been a county employee since 2015 and is currently a special assistant in the Bureau of Administration, which falls under the Office of the President.

Campaign finance records show Preckwinkle paid Kindle just shy of $7,000 for consulting and campaign work during last spring's mayoral campaign. The final payment was logged Feb. 20, 2019.

Kindle confirmed the incident took place on Feb. 21, 2019, and that he was suspended and retrained.

He said he and the colleague "worked well together on assignments."

"I walked into the office and leaned over to thank her for helping to get some work done while I was on leave," he wrote in a message to Crain's. "I gave her a hug and made a kissing sound on top of her head. Upon my return to work from my personal leave of absence, I learned I was the subject of an EEO investigation and was distressed by it. Had there been an opportunity to apologize I would have but was advised to stay away from her while the investigation was pending."

Kindle took close to a month of unpaid leave from his county job between mid-March and mid-April 2019 for personal reasons, he said.

"I apologize for making her feel uncomfortable. That was never my intention," Kindle said.

Martinez wrote that the behavior was "willful, and although there was no evidence that you intended your conduct to cause harm, your conduct violated County policy."

Blanchard's investigation was launched because of an anonymous complaint alleging "that a Special Assistant who works for the Bureau of Administration (BOA) sexually harassed a person employed in the Offices of the President (OTP). The anonymous complainant further alleged this sexual harassment was reported by the alleged victim on two separate occasions and that OTP staff failed to do anything about it which created a hostile work environment for the victim."

On the contrary, IG Patrick Blanchard found Preckwinkle’s office “responded appropriately.”

“In fact, it showed that mandatory reporters reported the sexual harassment, that co-workers supported the victim, that a thorough investigation was completed by the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer, that minimally appropriate discipline was imposed upon the Special Assistant, and that the Special Assistant is now barred from entering” where the victim works.

In a statement, Preckwinkle said once she learned about the incident, "I met with my staffer and supported her. I advised the staffer to follow the reporting process and instructed my Chief of Staff to do the same."

"Since taking office in 2010, my administration has made it a priority to ensure that all of our employees work in an environment that is safe and welcoming, that they understand how to report allegations of harassment when it happens and that those allegations are thoroughly and expeditiously handled," she said.

Nick Shields, Preckwinkle's spokesman, said "it's important to note discipline was implemented within two days of receiving the EEO report."

This is the second such incident affecting a member of Preckwinkle’s close-knit team. She fired her previous chief of staff, John Keller, in September 2018 for engaging in “inappropriate behavior on his personal time,” in which a woman alleged Keller had “grabbed” her “legs and. . . crotch” in a crowded cab on election night in 2016. The Chicago Tribune reported Preckwinkle had been warned about inappropriate behavior from Keller six months before his exit.

Since Keller's ouster, Preckwinkle convened a task force on how the county could improve its procedures around harassment and bullying.

"In this incident, it is clear that the work we have done has placed us in a better position to respond to allegations made," Preckwinkle said.

Martinez's May letter says Kindle had never previously faced discipline at the county.

In September 2019, a separate inspector general investigation, spurred by an allegation that Kindle performed political work while on paid leave from the county, found Kindle “routinely” failed to clock in. He was cleared of the political allegation but was reprimanded that “the supervisor had reminded the subject employee on several occasions about his failure to clock-in to work with little result.”

 



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