An unproven allegation of sexual assault against a Madison alderman almost two years ago inspired proposals for new rules for behavior and discipline, but the City Council was unable to agree on specifics and last week dropped the issue.
Council members said finding a way to create and enforce a new code of conduct was elusive, but that a new job description approved last fall will help while relying on existing state law and public oversight at the ballot box.
"I think it's all of it together," council President Shiva Bidar-Sielaff said.
But Ald. Lauren Cnare, 3rd District, who was president when the alleged assault against a city clerk's office employee came to light, said the council should have produced a code of conduct, even if an enforcement mechanism couldn't be agreed on.
"We could have come up with a set of guidelines that would have helped people behave in situations that are sort of gray," Cnare said.
The council, which spent months considering options, on Tuesday quietly abandoned the final proposals under consideration. One would have let the council adopt rules of conduct for members, and the other applied rules that now cover other city employees on workplace violence, conduct, nepotism, harassment and discrimination and appropriate use of city computers.
The big sticking point, members agreed, was identifying someone who could fill the role of supervisor for council members.
The proposal before the council would have given that role to the council president, but members felt the president in most ways is one of 20 peers and that such an increase in authority might have political ramifications.
"That's just not going to work," said Ald. Sue Ellingson, 13th District, who had suggested a code of conduct with no enforcement. She said she is satisfied with the outcome.
The council's organizational committee unanimously recommended to kill the proposals, and the full council did so without discussion last week.
Council President Pro Tem Chris Schmidt said the job description approved Oct. 16 will help.
The description, which centers on the role of a member, skills needed, training and best practices, says members should follow ethics rules and other applicable standards of conduct but doesn't list standards.
The council has authority under state law to take actions such as censure or removal, but such an action would usually follow an extraordinary action that was "black and white," Bidar-Sielaff said.
The council recognized gaps in behavior rules and discipline after assistant city clerk Elena Berg alleged she was sexually assaulted by Ald. Brian Solomon, 10th District. The alleged assault, which Solomon has strongly denied, came after staff and council members went out drinking after a council meeting on April 13, 2010.
The Dane County District Attorney's Office said it believed Berg but decided not to pursue a case based on whether a jury would agree that she did not consent. Madison's Department of Civil Rights office didn't find proof Solomon assaulted Berg and couldn't judge the merits of the allegation.
But the department questioned the appropriateness of council members socializing with clerk's office staff, who are responsible for elections, and recommended the council adopt policy on personal relationships with city employees.
Cnare believes the discussion is over — for now. "I think it's over until something happens again," she said.