How Many Time Bombs Will It Take? Part 2: Thank the Women Who Spoke Up — And Led

Knowing what we know, why would any woman would choose to work for Lakeland city government if she had an option?

If you find that hard to answer, you’re not alone. And that would seem to be a wee problem for the future of our city. Indeed, the word on the street is that the Lakeland Economic Development Council — and by that I mean Steve Scruggs — has had a revelation of sorts. Lakeland must become hip, cool, Poor Porkerish. He’s saying it all over the place. It has to become a diverse and funky place, where smart young people of all kinds want to come. The fact that much of it is already diverse and funky has long been ignored by Scruggs and other people of local power, but that’s another issue. For now, marketing Lakeland as the cool and modern city it already is — on the ground — has suddenly become an LEDC priority.

So why isn’t the LEDC — by which I mean Scruggs — trying really hard to answer that first question? Why isn’t the LEDC publicly and relentlessly demanding action to end the open-season-on-women-frat boy culture of Lakeland’s city government? Frat boy cultures are many things, but funky and diverse they typically are not. So you would think Scruggsie would work as hard to purge Lakeland city government of this poisonous culture as he did to purge its most valuable asset — Lakeland Electric — a little while back.

Ok, you can cackle now. But seriously, why aren’t our business “leaders” concerned about the seemingly endless list of abusive men who have thrived under Doug Thomas’s city leadership?

All I can say is, have you met our leaders in this county? They look out for each other. That’s what they do. After everything that’s happened in this city government, they’re still making excuses for the City Manager Doug Thomas, who handpicked Tommy Hamrick 10 months ago, after observing him for eight years or so, to oversee employee relations. Five mistreated female city employees later, some of these leaders give Thomas credit for letting Hamrick and his deputy resign with their benefits. Talk about the tyranny of low expectations.

Even Andrea Teves Smith, the Grey Robinson Peterson and Myers [Ed. — I messed that up. Apologies.] partner up for circuit judge who investigated this mess embarrassed herself. She concluded that Hamrick’s actions — including threatening witnesses; taking pictures of women bending over, and engaging in little mutual groping with a dude were merely “inappropriate” and not a “hostile work environment.” You can almost hear her say, what two guys haven’t groped each other at work? In fact, the dude groping seems to have served as a defense against sexual harassment. Apparently, in Judge Smith’s world, you can take as many pictures of women bending over as you want — if you also not-in-gay-way grope dudes. It shows just how the frat boy culture infects women, too.

Anyway, the point of this is to say we cannot remotely rely on our “leaders” to do anything but look after their own portfolios or power or wealth. They hem and haw and say let’s not be hasty.

If there is ever going to be a change it will have to come from right where the hammer fell on Tommy Hamrick — from people — primarily women — relentlessly reporting this crap when they experience it. The women who brought down the human relations leadership have done us a great service, and I’m proud of them. Thank you. You’ve done my 20-year-old daughter a great service too, maybe making it a little less likely this will happen to her one day.

I think the city should reward these women. Replacing Tim McCausland as city attorney with Erin Webb, the HR lawyer who did her job and had a picture taken of her butt, would send a meaningful message to the rest of the city. But I won’t hold my breath.

The Hamrick five show what can happen when bad behavior is formally attacked in a timely way. Don’t leave the administration any gray area. Write down what happens to you and send multiple copies to multiple people. Find lawyers. Call the EEOC. City officials seem to fear nothing the public can do but lawsuits. So talk to the frat boys in the only language they understand. Make it rain.

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