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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. —  After a short public hearing Monday, the South Kingstown Town Council passed changes to South Kingstown’s sexual harassment policy that expands it to include misconduct by elected and appointed officials in addition to employees.

“The scope has been updated to reflect Town Council members, School Committee members, members of appointed boards and commissions, as well as any other appointed officials of the town,” Director of Administrative Services Aimee Reiner said.

Definitions and examples of harassment also were updated to include not just sexual harassment, but harassment in general, Reiner said.

Reiner would coordinate the distribution of the policy with any elected or appointed officials.

The modifications also include changes to the investigation and reporting procedures that take into account the expanded scope of the policy’s coverage.

“One item of note is there are multiple people within the reporting channels, designed so that no one is going to ever have to be required to report an alleged harassment claim to the person that they are reporting the claim against,” Reiner said. “There’s multiple people identified through the reporting channel that they can go to.”

The policy change stems in part from sexual harassment allegations made in January against Council Vice President Bryant Da Cruz. The claims were administratively investigated by the town, although no further public action was taken and the policy at the time covered conduct by town employees, not elected officials. Da Cruz did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Da Cruz said Friday he was on a long-planned vacation with his family on Block Island, and that the town was informed he'd be absent from the July 8 meeting.

Penalties for employees that are found to have violated the policy can be as severe as termination from employment, and appointed officials may be removed from their position. But the town doesn’t have a procedure to recall elected officials, Reiner said. Members of the Town Council and School Committee found in violation would face a public censure, she said.  

“At this point there really is no further discipline that could be taken,” she said.

The town adopted its sexual harassment policy for town employees in 1998, after the state passed a law the previous year requiring employers to “promote a workplace free from sexual harassment,” and adopt policies against such harassment and any subsequent retaliation.

“Thank you for taking on these changes, which are well-timed,” President Abel Collins told Reiner. “It’s good that we can take small steps to improve what we’re doing on a local level. It is important in light of the ‘Me too’ movement that this is done on a broader societal basis, but one small step at a time down here in South Kingstown. I’m happy we were able to get this done.”

The council made several amendments to the ordinance too, including a procedure to notify the accused and to review the policy ordinance every two years.

“We’re in uncharted territory. The definitions may change with technology and things we don’t have control of at this moment,” Councilor Deborah Kelso said.

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