Questions continued to be asked about the recent arrest of former City Manager Mike Patterson during the monthly Mayor Coffee Chat in Florence.

“This is not going to be a Mike Patterson show,” said Mayor Pro Tem Anthony Esquibel at the beginning of the meeting. “Everything you've heard, seen or known has come out. You know the same thing as we do. Any questions that are asked are going to be 'no comment' because this is an ongoing investigation.”

After Lori Cobler gave her report on the budget, one woman asked if a city employee had a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor, what should this person do.

“Today it would be reported to City Council immediately,” Cobler replied. “That's the policy (we're following). They're handling all employment issues right now so if there's a problem, it goes straight to City Council. It would be reported to Sean and he would bring it to City Council.”

Is there a backup if someone wants to report a conflict of interest, the woman asked.

“When I hear that, it's absolute zero and I mean zero tolerance policies,” said acting City Manager Sean Garrett. “I make that very, very clear to everyone. Those practices no longer exist. They are gone. If it comes to me, it will be dealt with. If it comes to Lori, it will be dealt with. I give everybody assurance of that. Every single one of my employees from department heads down to front line staff know that. We will give it to council and it will be taken care of. It is absolute zero tolerance.”

At that point, Esquibel said they couldn't change the past.

“We can only change the future,” he said. “We are making one big change. I hope people understand that and realize we're not going to relive the past. We can't change what happened, but we can change what's going to happen.”

Gail Nelson noted 40 people had left city employment.

“That's a really high amount of people,” she said. “What guarantee does a safe work environment have for these employees? Do we go to an outside HR that is unbiased? I hear Sean loud and clear, but what happens Sean if it's against you?”

Garrett said it would go directly to council.

“We're looking at setting up a line where people can call,” he continued. “We're changing our hiring practices. That's one of the first things we did. We're changing policies. There's going to be mandatory training for all department heads and all employees. That's going to be sexual harassment, discrimination, bias, how to do work things differently, how to work with different groups, all the mandatory training. The training applies to City Council, as well. Zero tolerance goes for anybody, BOZA, Police Department, Historic Preservation are all the same.”

It may take effect as soon as the end of this month, Esquibel said.

“We're not messing around,” he added.

Tim Jordan said he is willing to give Garrett a chance.

“But this arrest affidavit is very damning,” Jordan said. “I think there are people who are never going to overlook that. It's going to stick with people a long time. I listen to people. This is damaging. I want to help you all plan in assuring the community that's there's trust and encompass on council, where I don't get run off. I'm tired of hearing about our sales tax; I'm tired about hearing about people doing a good job. Some people deserve it. I'm willing to give you a chance because you stepped into a sh** mess. I'm going to give you a chance, but the other people that's been on council for a while, it's going to be a tough sell, especially when it comes to the settlement.”

According to the affidavit, a former Florence city clerk as successful in suing the city in a lawsuit, pertaining to claims concerning sexual harassment.

She said Patterson frequently sexually harassed her, sent lewd text messages to her work cell phone, provided “only one of the many disgusting remarks” Patterson made to her and Patterson “targeted other female employments by making unwanted sexual advances toward them, as well.”

After discussing it for most of the meeting, residents had a better idea of what the future holds for Florence.