During the 2015 Salt Lake City mayor’s race, then-challenger Jackie Biskupski scolded incumbent Ralph Becker for allegedly not taking sexual harassment claims from city employees more seriously.
She referred to a lawsuit three female police officers filed over sexual harassment from a top official in the police department that she said Becker mishandled. And she mentioned a harassment claim from a former female battalion chief and fire marshal in the city’s fire department who said she was retaliated against for pointing out problems in the department.
Now Biskupski is discovering it’s a lot easier to criticize city leaders from outside the government than being the one in charge. Her administration is being scrutinized for ignoring for too long the arrest of a nurse by a Salt Lake City police officer, with the support of his supervisor.
The city’s response to the treatment of University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels in late July was negligible until Wubbels’ attorney, Karra Porter, released the cop’s body camera video and another recording from the hospital of the altercation, leading to international condemnation of the police department.
Biskupski denounced the officer’s treatment of Wubbels, whom he handcuffed and dragged to his patrol car after she refused, per hospital rules, to allow a blood draw from an unconscious patient.
The mayor’s response came more than a month after the incident, and she said she did not know about it until she saw the videos along with everybody else.
Well, she’s the mayor. She should have known of a dispute involving an out-of-control cop that could lead to a lawsuit against the city.
And if her ignorance is bliss, she didn’t excuse leadership’s ignorance of a volatile employee conflict when it involved her opponent.
At the time, she called the city’s response to the sexual harassment claims in the police department and the retaliation allegation in the fire department a lack of leadership.
I’m not saying Becker handled those conflicts well. He didn’t. But Biskupski made Becker’s response an effective campaign issue, and now she’s dealing with the same leadership questions she raised against him.
She’s saying that police Chief Mike Brown should have placed Detective Jeff Payne on administrative leave as soon as he learned of the nurse dispute. It’s easy to say that now, all these weeks later and in the face of public outrage as the videos have gone viral.
Did Biskupski throw Brown under the bus to save her political skin just as she criticized Becker for not accepting accountability in the sexual harassment and retaliation cases?
The harassment case stemmed from allegations by three female officers against then-Deputy Chief Rick Findlay. The allegations included assertions he had stolen risqué photos of the women from their cellphones and passed them around to other officers.
Then-police Chief Chris Burbank placed Findlay on paid leave but did not demote him and allowed him to retire months later. The issue heated up during the 2015 campaign when the women filed a notice of claim against the city.
That’s when Biskupski pounced on Becker for lack of leadership, and Becker blamed Burbank. The chief resigned rather than read a letter Becker’s staff had prepared for him in which he took all the blame and cleared Becker of any negligence. The whole episode with the harassment allegations and Burbank’s forced resignation was a factor in Becker’s loss to Biskupski.
The problems in the fire department emerged when Battalion Chief Martha Ellis was being retaliated against after she filed whistleblower complaints about problems in the department.
Biskupski made that a campaign issue as well, disclosing publicly that a female firefighter had filed a sexual-discrimination claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Biskupski ripped Becker for allowing cultures of sexism and discrimination within the police and fire departments.
In January, shortly after Biskupski was sworn in, Ellis met with the new mayor and described what she believed was discrimination and retaliation aimed at demoting her, according to Ellis’ attorney.
Despite airing her concerns to Biskupski, Ellis was eventually demoted on the new mayor’s watch. She later was reinstated by the Salt Lake City Civil Service Commission, which deemed her demotion was unjust.
So Biskupski is finding it’s easier to criticize from outside City Hall than it is to govern from within it.