Commissioner and Community Redevelopment Agency board member David Merker inappropriately touched Vivian Brooks on Dec. 23 and has engaged in inappropriate behavior with CRA staff members, according to an investigation completed by an outside attorney.
In response to those findings presented Tuesday night, Mayor Jerry Taylor asked the board to censure Merker. He also asked that if any other such complaints are made, they be forwarded to the governor with this investigation report for his action.
Both moves were approved by the board with Merker and Commissioner Mack McCray dissenting.
Taylor said the censure acts as “an expression of disapproval towards this type of behavior.”
Click here to read Vivian Brooks’ email to Commissioner David Merker and the CRA attorneys.
The board members, who asked for this investigation, have no authority to dismiss Merker from his position. And they do not have that authority as commissioners, either.
Attorney Christine Hanley’s investigation shed more light on the day in question. Merker and Brooks were walking to the CRA office door and stopped in another employee’s office. While in that office, Merker took Brooks’ arm and grabbed her shoulder, the report obtained by The Palm Beach Post says. Brooks “extracted” herself and walked Merker to the door. Minutes later, she came back to that employee’s office and told her Merker grabbed her “posterior.”
As examples of additional inappropriate behavior with Brooks and CRA staff members, the report said Merker has said to Brooks that he will marry her in another life, and has asked the assistant CRA director when he will set up his family member with Merker. The report also says Merker often tells employees they “look good” or says to them “you’re fired.”
The inappropriate-touch claim was made Dec. 30 in an email from Brooks, the executive director of the CRA, to Merker and the CRA attorneys. In the email obtained by The Post, Brooks said Merker grabbed her “posterior” at a Dec. 23 meeting. She said she has warned Merker of inappropriate behavior toward women before.
Merker, who was elected District 1 commissioner in March 2013, has denied the claim, and that those conversations happened. He also said he thinks the situation is a “political ploy” by Taylor because of his possible mayoral run.
The CRA tried to resolve the matter within the agency, but Merker refused to sign an agreement on how to move forward. To come to some resolution, Hanley was hired in mid-January and was paid $275 an hour.
Hanley told the board she recommends the CRA board members be trained on discrimination statutes, workplace harassment and appropriate workplace behavior, and to make sure the members adhere to the guidelines. Also, Hanley said the CRA should take full advantage of their agreement with the city human resources services and for the CRA attorney to regularly review the CRA’s employee handbook to make sure it is up-to-date and that the organization has adopted best practices.
Some board members questioned the training, and said they have received such and Merker should have, too.
Taylor said it “concerns him” if Merker hasn’t received training.
“He’s voting on ordinances that other people have to follow and to tell me he’s not familiar with it, that really concerns me,” Taylor said.