Wisconsin drug coordinator being investigated for sexual harassment
HUDSON, Wis. -- St. Croix County's first-ever drug court coordinator has signed a separation agreement while she was being investigated for sexual harassment, according to documents that have been released. Amber Perry, a seven-year veteran of th...
HUDSON, Wis. -- St. Croix County’s first-ever drug court coordinator has signed a separation agreement while she was being investigated for sexual harassment, according to documents that have been released.
Amber Perry, a seven-year veteran of the county, left her job April 10 while she was on paid administrative leave. According to documents made public recently through a data request, Perry was being investigated for allegations that centered on sexual harassment.
“That was the thrust of the whole investigation,” St. Croix County Administrator Patrick Thompson said.
Perry, who worked as drug court coordinator since being hired by the county in January 2007, drew a $64,104 salary at the time of her resignation.
Thompson said the county was “prepared to take whatever steps were needed” in the days leading up to her resignation.
“It was serious,” he said. “The allegations were serious.”
A separation agreement signed April 10 between Perry and the county called for her to receive two months of severance pay and COBRA medical coverage through June 30.
Perry played a critical role in St. Croix County’s drug court, a program that allows low-level offenders with substance abuse problems to participate in an alternative form of prosecution with the goals of sobriety, an end to criminal activity and the possibility of reduced charges. Her job duties included screening prospective drug court clients, managing clients’ cases, facilitating drug court meetings and maintaining a confidential file on each participant.
Attempts to contact Perry for comment were unsuccessful.
Perry was supervised by St. Croix Circuit Court’s four judges, with Judge Edward Vlack as her primary supervisor.
Vlack, who presides over St. Croix County’s drug court, said in an interview that he was pleased with Perry’s work and her commitment to the demanding position.
“She put her heart into that program,” he said, adding that he was “not happy about what happened.”
In a March 4 email to former St. Croix County Human Resources Director Tammy Funk, Vlack wrote “while I recognize and agree that the allegations must be investigated, I am concerned about the timing of the allegations. I am also concerned about the investigation, having already been told of the outcome before the investigation began.”
Funk, who resigned her position with the county on April 3, replied to the email, saying she was “concerned” about his reference to the timing of the investigation. In her response, Funk denied the investigation had a pre-ordained outcome and asked Vlack to clarify the comment.
In an interview, Vlack did not elaborate on the concerns mentioned in the email, but said the remarks he made were “said for a reason.”
He called the period surrounding Perry’s investigation “a tough time for everybody.”
“I hate to see her leave,” Vlack said. “She is very good at what she does. She was excellent.”
The separation agreement states that Perry had not filed any complaint or grievance against the county and will not in the future.
Thompson did not release information on sexual harassment allegations made against Perry as the separation agreement prohibits the release of information related to pending or active investigations against her.
A letter detailing rationale regarding the release of data on the matter notes:
- A formal sexual harassment complaint was filed for an alleged July 14, 2014, incident.
- Private investigators Dean Meyer and Gary Hahn handled interviews and an investigation into the sexual harassment allegations.
- Pre-disciplinary notices were filed in relation to the sexual harassment claims.
- Copies of text message, photos, emails and miscellaneous documents related to sexual harassment allegations -- as well as Perry’s handwritten notes related to the complaint -- were not released.
- Written comments about potential discipline for Perry related to the sexual harassment complaint and investigation were also withheld.
Thompson spelled out an eight-point summary stating reasons for withholding all information related to the sexual harassment allegations.
Among the reasons listed:
- Records compiled resulted in a confidential investigation, as outlined in the county’s personnel handbook.
- Disclosure of the data could provide a disincentive for potential victims of sexual harassment to come forward and would harm the county’s ability to conduct “thorough and confidential internal investigations.”
- Protecting the privacy rights of people who cooperated in the investigation, including Perry and the complainant.
- The “increased risk” of harassment for witnesses, employees and their families.
- The possibility that disclosure of the data would impact worker morale and impede the county’s ability to hire employees if they knew “such investigations would be open to the public domain.”
- The possibility that information contained in the data is mistaken, unsubstantiated, untrue or irrelevant.
- Perry’s job classification as “employee” of the county entitles her to greater privacy that someone holding “local public office.”
Other complaints raised in the investigation, including the possible personal use by Perry of pre-loaded incentive cards issued to drug court participants, were unsubstantiated, Thompson and St. Croix County Corporation Counsel Scott Cox said.
Vlack said Perry’s use of the cards never was an issue for him.
“I never questioned that,” he said.
Perry also denied any misuse during an interview with investigators and Thompson. She admitted to a loose accounting system for the cards, but said that had been remedied in recent months.
Thompson said in an interview that the Perry investigation led to an additional layer of “operational supervision to assist the judge.”
The investigation provided “a learning process” for the county, Thompson said.
“I think we’ll grow from this,” he said.
The county has since hired a new drug coordinator, Kimberly Kitzberger.
Thompson said Kitzberger is developing a system to measure drug court outcomes and the program’s effectiveness.
“We will take the program to the next step,” he said, adding that the transition proved a difficult transition, but “we’ll all be better for it in the long run.”