By David Armstrong

Carmel-by-the-Sea Mayor Steve Dallas was exonerated March 7 of sexual harassment by an independent investigator hired by the city. As a result, the city council has allowed the mayor to stay on the job while also reprimanding him for personal misconduct that was not illegal but was deemed inappropriate. Dallas offered to make a public apology and the council has agreed. The vote was 3-0 to accept the investigation report, with council member Bobby Richards excused.

The results of a nearly three-month-long investigation by an outside lawyer hired by City Attorney Glen Mozingo were announced at a standing-room only special city council meeting that was often emotional and sometimes grew raucous. Three police cars were sighted outside city hall in case of trouble.

At one point, Chief of Police Paul Tomasi rose from his chair and gently laid his hand on the shoulder of restauranteur Richard Pepe, who has repeatedly accused Dallas of threatening and bullying him, just as Pepe rushed to a public microphone to make one of several heated statements. Pepe accused Mozingo of lying about the nature and scope of the investigation, and declared, “I’m going to sue you [the city] to have another investigation opened up.”

In a detailed opening statement Wednesday morning, Mozingo said that none of the allegations against the mayor occurred “in the workplace,” and none of his accusers is a city employee. Mozingo also stated that the 57 women supposedly lined up to accuse Dallas of harassment – according to Kim Stemler, his first and most prominent accuser – six came forward during the investigation. All told, Mozingo, said, there were 21 complaints, as some of the women, who were promised confidentiality by the city, made more than one accusation. Each complaint was investigated, he said.

Mozingo chastised some in the community for embracing wild rumors. One such rumor, he said, was that Dallas has been investigated before for sexual harassment. When investigators dug into the rumor, they found it was false. Additionally, Mozingo reported, most of the comments and actions described as harassment were exaggerated at best; many others were simple misunderstandings. Even so, Mayor Pro Tem Carrie Theis noted at the meeting that the mayor has acknowledged that he has got to be more careful with words and actions that can be misinterpreted.

In conclusion, Mozingo said, Dallas’s behavior, while sometimes unwise, does not measure up to the high standard of proof required to remove a public official from office, and none of it was illegal.

In a sensational, unexpected twist, Mozingo said an unnamed group of Dallas’s enemies engaged in conspiracy by paying a Salinas man $100 to come to Carmel, go to a bar when Dallas was there, and jostle the mayor while hired photographers took pictures, to create the impression of a barroom brawl and discredit Dallas. “Fortunately, a retired police officer was on the scene,” the city attorney said, and brought the incident under control. Carmel will contact the Monterey County District Attorney’s office, Mozingo continued. “That matter will be turned over for prosecution.”

None of this deterred the determined Pepe who, in his haste, appeared to shoulder past a woman standing in the aisle near the public microphone, and went to the mic himself.

In closing statements after taking questions – more often actually statements – from the public, city council members Carrie Theis, Jan Reimers and Hardy summed up.

Hardy said she was shocked by reports of misbehavior by Dallas, as she hadn’t seen or experienced such behavior herself. She also contested Pepe’s contention that Dallas promised Pepe he would never get anything done in this city again if he ran for mayor, by noting the city council has five members. “The mayor has one vote,” Hardy pointed out. To imply that the mayor can command council members – three of whom are women – to do as they’re told “insults the intelligence and integrity” of the council.

“He realizes he did something wrong,” Hardy said of Dallas. “He loves this community and has been an effective mayor.”

Reimers emphasized that the council took the allegations seriously, worked hard to separate fact from fiction and concluded that Carmel-by-the-Sea “must knuckle-down and go forward.”

An openly emotional Theis, answering a question about whether she had ever reprimanded Dallas before, said, “I never reprimanded him. I talked to him. The mayor and I have a professional relationship and we have candid conversations.” She, too, said Dallas’s behavior didn’t measure up to civil or criminal liability for the city. She noted Wednesday marked the fourth straight day of meetings, and called for healing the community and moving forward.

After the meeting, CRA President Barbara Livingston said the months-long squabbling proved to be a grind for everyone – “the council, the staff, Mayor Dallas and his family, and the community. I said from the get-go these allegations won’t amount to much. All this made the city spend an enormous amount of time and money.”

The CRA Board statement about the council’s decision is also posted here on This Just In. The joint statement of city council members Hardy, Reimers, and Theis is also posted here.