In response to harassment and discrimination allegations the city has recently faced, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan on Sept. 21 announced that she will create a new independent office that will field systemic misconduct complaints.

An executive order signed several weeks ago will establish the Office of the Employee Ombud, responsible for overseeing "systemic impacts and patterns of misconduct" and help city workers navigate the process. The office will report to Durkan annually, according to the mayor's office.

The order also creates an investigative unit in the Seattle Department of Human Resources, where all workplace complaints within the executive branch would get sent, and requires that the human resources and civil rights departments implement expectations citywide for workplace culture. Durkan's proposed 2019–2020 budget will identify additional resources for the new investigative unit.

"As we continue to build a more just, inclusive, and equitable city, it is critical that we look inward and evaluate the ways in which our city can create a safe workplace for all employees," Durkan said in a statement Friday. "When I took office, it was clear we needed to make significant changes across city government while reviewing all our harassment and discrimination policies to create more accountability and transparency."

Durkan's executive order sets a December 31 deadline for all executive branch departments to provide an employee training plan to the human resources and Office for Civil Rights directors.

In January, Durkan established an interdepartmental team as a response to reports about harassment allegations to review city policies and recommend changes. The decision follows reports that detailed allegations of sexism and harassment at Seattle City Light, a "toxic workplace" in the Human Resources department, and settlements with two library guards who were ultimately forced to leave their jobs.  

“I'm encouraged by the progress we've made and acknowledge we still have work to do," council member Teresa Mosqueda said in a statement. "I know true systemic change is achieved through consistency, transparency, and ongoing evaluation.

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