ROCHESTER - City Councilor Chris Rice will face a trial before the mayor and full council on May 12 over allegations of misconduct including sexual harassment, retaliation and two counts of making false statement to city staff.
The decision to refer the case to the full council was made on Monday by virtue of a unanimous vote by a three-member investigative subcommittee.
Some of the most disturbing accusations against Rice - laid out in the subcommittee's "findings of fact" - include his alleged sexual harassment of City Councilor Ashley Desrochers, which reportedly began during a November recount shortly after the city elections.
"Upon seeing Desrochers that day, Rice commented that he thought Desrochers looked nice," the 12-page investigative report states. "At some point during the recount, Rice commented that he wanted 'a cute girl' next to him and a cute gay guy next to me too. In context, Rice was referring to having Desrochers ('cute girl') and Dana Berlin ('cute gay guy') sitting next to him on the dais at City Council meetings."
According to the report, Desrochers told Rice at the time she did not care for his remark. The report also alleges that at the recount former city councilor Palana Hunt-Hawkins overheard Rice saying to Desrochers, "Looks like I'll be on the City Council with you, don't worry about doing any work, just look pretty."
Hunt-Hawikins, a transgender woman, also testified before the subcommittee that, "Rice oftentimes made sexually aggressive statements about city employees and, in one instance, about her sexuality and genitalia while both Rice and Hunt-Hawkins were member of the City Council," the report states.
Rice is further accused of insulting Desrochers with a "blonde" reference following a Feb. 3 Codes and Ordinances Committee meeting during which Desrochers spoke.
Immediately after the meeting ended, the report states that Rice turned to Desrochers and said, "Wow, I would have thought you were blonde with that comment" or words to that effect.
The exchange was overheard by City Councilor Steven Beaudoin, who informed Mayor Paul Callaghan about the incident.
After speaking with Desrochers, Callaghan then informed the city manager and city attorney, which ultimately led to the hiring of independent investigator from the Drummond Woodsum law offices.
Then on March 4 Callaghan called Rice to let him know he needed to call him. When Rice called back, Callaghan told him about the investigations into allegation of misconduct by him and that the investigator wanted to meet with him.
Rice became very aggressive and angry the report states, allegedly telling Callaghan that he would, "make you (Callaghan) and Desrochers life a living hell for the next two years."
The trial will be held May 12, at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers. It will be open to the public, live-streamed on the city's website, broadcast live on Comcast Channel 22 and Breezeline (formerly Atlantic Broadband) Channel 26, and available on-demand immediately following the broadcast.
During the trial, the City Clerk will read the charges to Rice. After each charge is read, Rice will be asked if he pleads "true" or "not true." After Rice pleads, City Council will conduct a trial as to the charges Rice pleads Not True to.
According to City Attorney Terence O'Rourke, the Investigative Committee will present its case first and answer questions from the rest of the council. Following that, Rice will have the opportunity to present his defense and answer questions from council.
Once both cases have been presented, the council will deliberate. Following the discussion, the City Clerk will read each charge and ask each Councilor whether they find the charge to be "true" or "not true" by a preponderance of evidence standard.
It should be noted that under the preponderance of evidence standard, the burden of proof is met when a Councilor is convinced that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the charge is "true," a much lower bar than "beyond a reasonable doubt" utilized in criminal cases in a court of law.
If any charge receives a majority of votes from the City Council as "true," the council will then move to the imposition of sanctions or punishment.
Sanctions can include removing Rice from the City Council. Removal requires nine votes in the affirmative.