tampabay.com

Report details harassment

Brooksville's HR chief also perused porn at work, investigator says.

By Jonathan Abel
Published March 16, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - Sexual harassment.

Internet pornography.

Feuding.

That's the way Brooksville human resources director Ron Baker spent his time at work, according to a report released Thursday by the city's independent investigator.

After a five-week inquiry into the feud between Baker and Police Chief Ed Tincher, a short memo was released Thursday summarizing the findings about Baker.

City officials have not yet met with Tincher to discuss the results of an inquiry into his role in the conflict.

Baker was put on unpaid leave Thursday and the table is effectively set for his termination. All that's left is the opportunity for him to appeal at an administrative hearing.

In blunt language, the report paints an ugly picture of the 71-year-old Baker:

"While on the job, you have improperly, if not unlawfully, harassed one or more co-workers and used discourteous, insulting, abusive and inflammatory language concerning a co-worker, repeatedly and publicly ..."

The report continues:

"You have stated many times that your department was overworked. However, your Internet use of your City computer ... shows a pattern of non-work related Web browsing of sites for gambling, games, shopping, streaming media, aircraft, sports, entertainment, motor vehicles and real estate. There were nine hits on adult and sexually explicit Web sites"

Baker and his lawyer met with interim City Manager Steve Baumgartner and the city attorney Thursday and learned the charges against him.

Baker turned in the keys to his office and left. He said he had no comment.

Thursday's report was the culmination of a five-week investigation and months of accusations between Baker and Tincher.

The trouble first came to a head in August, when Baker was arrested by the Brooksville police on a charge of giving Xanax to a co-worker who was having an anxiety attack.

Baker said the arrest was engineered as retribution for reporting an alleged affair between Tincher and a City Hall secretary.

Both Tincher and Baker have been on paid leave for the last five weeks, but Thursday's report focused only on Baker - the results of the investigation into Tincher will be made available in the near future, Baumgartner said.

Baker is accused of creating a hostile work environment for the City Hall secretary.

The report quotes the secretary as saying that she would get physically ill in the morning before work because of the abuse she had to suffer at Baker's hands and his "campaign of lies and rumors impugning my personal and professional reputation."

The woman recently left for a job outside the city.

For his part, Baker has said he reported the alleged affair because he had received complaints from other employees about it.

Five employees, including the interim city manager, say in the report released Thursday they heard Baker call the secretary names.

There were other serious allegations leveled against Baker.

A female police officer, Diana Lopez, said that Baker tried to dissuade her from applying to the Brooksville Police Department, saying the department didn't appreciate its officers.

When she and another woman came to inquire about working for the department, Baker told them to apply to the Hernando Sheriff's Office instead.

The report also accuses him of mishandling a confidential sexual harassment report that another City Hall secretary had leveled against then-City Manager Richard Anderson.

Baker spoke about it with a number of people instead of following the proper protocol, the report says.

And then there are the accusations that Baker went to pornographic Web sites and wasted time on the Internet during business hours.

Baker has until March 29 to decide whether to challenge the report.

City Attorney David LaCroix explained that Baker can either say "I want an administrative hearing to prove all this..." or he can submit a written rebuttal and forgo a hearing.

Or he could just resign.

In any case, Baumgartner, the interim city manager, will make the final decision on Baker.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or 352 754-6114.