Bloomington will include new language extending its sexual harassment protections beyond employees to independent contractors, volunteers, interns and any others doing sanctioned work for the city in all future relevant contracts.

The city council approved the protections Wednesday night after hearing legal opinions on whether there should be an independent commission established to handle sexual harassment cases with conflicts of interest or incidents that might involve the mayor, who as an elected official has special protections from being fired.

Barbara McKinney, director of the Bloomington Human Rights Commission, said such an independent commission isn’t necessary because the city hasn’t seen any problem with independent contractors being harassed by individuals who might oversee an investigation into their claims.

“We never have any of those complaints. We’re not sure what that commission would do that we can’t do internally now,” McKinney said, adding that an independent commission who found an instance of sexual harassment couldn’t enact any reprimands.

The proposed changes come after former Monroe County independent contractor Brandon Drake alleged in March that then-Monroe County Commissioner Amanda Barge had sexually harassed him for more than a year before dismantling his job as a reaction to his rejections. Since Drake made those claims, Barge withdrew from the city mayoral race and resigned from her elected position with the county.

“One of the things I experienced was conflict of interest. It was thick and heavy in my case,” Drake said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Drake asked the city retain the option to form an independent commission to evaluate sexual harassment complaints where there may be potential conflicts of interest.

In instances where the city can’t sufficiently resolve the investigation into an elected official, McKinney said the city would do what corporations do and hire an outside law firm.

“We would investigate to the extent we could,” McKinney said.

In their final comments, council members Dave Rollo and Jim Sims both suggested the city might re-visit the concept of creating an independent commission to handle such incidents.

In addition to extending protections beyond employees, the new language requires any business contracting with the city for more than $10,000 to provide the city with a sexual harassment policy along with their affirmative action policies. Entities contracted under that amount won’t have to have a plan on file, but the city would provide those smaller contractors with a model sexual harassment policy and would outline to those contractors the established process for reporting sexual harassment.

Those council members present at Wednesday’s meeting unanimously approve the new protections, with amendments that altered the language to reflect non-binary genders by replacing “she or he” with “she, he or they.”

“I think it’s a good idea regardless of anything that has happened in the last four months,” council member Isabel Piedmont-Smith said.

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