Health director demoted due to ‘harassment’ complaints
The Benzie-Leelanau Board of Health voted 6-1 on June 26 to remove health officer Bill Crawford from the post he’s held since 1999, and reassign him as county sanitarian. Action came after a nearly hour-long closed session with Crawford to discuss the allegations.
“It was ‘modest’ sexual harassment, but we had to act under the current policy,” said Mary Tonneberger, an at-large representative on the board of health.
According to draft minutes of the special meeting, Crawford was accused of having “excessive personal contact” over a period of 1 ½ years with a specific female employee that went “far beyond” what was needed to perform his job. Activities reported were limited to the Benzie Resource Center in Benzonia.
The allegations were contained in a report compiled by Health Board attorney Bryan Graham, who investigated the complaint.
Minutes of the meeting, which was not attended by an Enterprise reporter, go into detail about some of the allegations. The minutes state that board members discussed excessive personal contact that included Crawford:
• Waiting in his car until the female employee arrived for work and then walking near her into the office while attempting to engage her in conversation.
• Following the female employee to her car at the end of the work day while attempting to engage her in conversation.
• Leaving his work area to have direct, close contact with the female “almost every time” she was in the coffee area —at least once while a conference call was in progress, during clinics, during meetings in which the employee was a participant and in the employee’s work area.
According to minutes, the personal contact behavior was observed by every employee interviewed as part of the investigation. Those interviewed described the behavior as “obsessive … and very obvious.”
During conversations with a number of female employees, it was learned that Crawford has stared or “focused his gaze” on the chest area of those female employees. The behavior took place on nearly a daily basis and was “far more than a random occurrence.”
The health board found that although Crawford may not have intended for his behavior to create a hostile work environment, he failed to recognize how female employees could perceive his actions as “unsatisfactory” from an executive leader. The consequences of the failure were magnifi ed in a small workforce with a large number of female employees.
When contacted by phone today, Crawford offered no comment. Meeting minutes indicate he regrets the decisions made by the board and that he believed he could move forward in a leadership position.
The demotion will cut Crawford’s compensation by nearly half. As health officer, his salary was $78,412. As a sanitarian, he will be paid $39,702 per year.
In addition to the demotion, Crawford was ordered to complete counseling as directed by the personnel committee. A letter of reprimand will be placed in his file and a monitoring program will be establish to ensure Crawford’s behavior is acceptable. He will be required to sign a corrective action plan drawn up by the new health officer, personnel committee and board attorney Graham.
Jenifer Murray, personal health director, was appointed to serve as interim health officer. She was scheduled to meet yesterday afternoon with several board members to discuss the process of finding a new health officer.
Crawford worked for the Tri-County Health Department from June 1976 through Oct. 1, 1996 when the Benzie- Leelanau District Health Department was formed. He was appointed health officer on Jan. 1, 1999.