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Monessen mayor accused of sexually harassing city employee

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 1:20 p.m.

Monessen Mayor Lou Mavrakis attempted to use the city council meeting Wednesday to defend himself against accusations of sexual misconduct involving a female city employee.

But Mavrakis' council colleagues didn't want to hear it, and walked out on him.

The first-term mayor is accused of “consistently” confronting the woman in his office and speaking to her in a “sexually explicit manner,” according to a letter written by the employee.

Copies of the letter addressed to Mavrakis and members of city council were dropped off Wednesday morning in their respective mailboxes at the Monessen Municipal Complex.

The Valley Independent, which obtained a copy of the letter, is not identifying the alleged victim.

The employee claims the mayor's “offensive and intolerable” conduct has created an “intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment.”

“I will no longer tolerate this harassment by the mayor,” the woman wrote.

Her letter surfaced two days after another female city employee submitted a letter to the mayor and members of council, accusing an unnamed former employee of reviewing her personnel file, time cards and payroll records.

“This is inappropriate and I believe it to be a form of harassment,” the woman wrote in her letter. “If this continues, I will be forced to take additional steps.”

Lawmaker blamed

In a lengthy statement read at the council meeting, Mavrakis did not specifically deny the woman's claims.

Rather, he accused state Rep. R. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, of being behind the allegations.

“As the new mayor of Monessen, I promised the residents of Monessen that I would always look out for best interest of our city, that I would always tell the truth and that I would always fight for what's right,” Mavrakis read.

“Every day, I try to make good on that promise, and today is no different. Because of my sometimes-brutal honesty, I have become the target of Representative Ted Harhai and his allies. In an effort to intimidate and silence me, I am informed that false charges, political in nature, were published against me earlier today.”

Mavrakis accused Harhai of trying to “silence” him because the mayor is allegedly holding discussions with the Westmoreland County District Attorney's office about Harhai allegedly “campaigning on taxpayer-funded emails.”

As Mavrakis continued the attack on Harhai, Councilman Josh Retos stood up and exclaimed, “motion to adjourn.” Councilwoman Lucille D'Alfonso seconded Restos' motion and Councilwoman Patricia Bukowski indicated she was voting yes to adjourn.

As the three walked out, Retos exclaimed, “We're going home.”

One audience member said, “We have a city to run and they walk out like a bunch of kids.”

Mavrakis accused the three council members of calling executive sessions without his knowledge.

“These three people do not run the city, I run the city,” Mavrakis said. “Am I one vote or do I have two votes, John?”

Councilman John Nestor replied, “We all have votes.”

Retos, Bukowski and D'Alfonso eventually returned and the meeting resumed.

Toward the end of the meeting, Mavrakis received a vote of confidence from his wife.

Glenda Mavrakis vowed they would fight the allegations together.

“I'm from Monessen, he's from Monessen,” she said. “I learned to fight. He learned to fight.

“And he will not resign.”

Glenda Mavrakis said there is no validity to the accusations against her husband.

After Glenda Mavrakis finished speaking, Lou Mavrakis said, “I hope I'm not going to sleep with the dog tonight.”

Harhai responds

Contacted after the meeting, Harhai dismissed Mavrakis' claims.

“I have no idea what he's talking about and I don't want to be a party to that,” Harhai said.

“From what I was told, this is another political scam against me. He supported my Republican opponent, and he attended a fundraiser for my Republican opponent last week. This is a part of his scheme.”

What's next?

D'Alfonso, when contacted earlier Wednesday, confirmed she received copies of both letters and predicted an internal investigation will begin.

She said, based on Pennsylvania's Third-Class City Code, the first step an employee must take in filing a complaint such as sexual harassment is to notify his or her employer in writing.

Attorney Jean Ellen Novak, who practices labor law with the Pittsburgh firm Strassburger McKenna Gutnik & Gefsky, agreed that putting the other side on notice is normally the first step taken if any kind of legal action is contemplated.

Typically, she said, the next step would be to file a complaint with a regulatory agency such as the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – a move that normally sets the stage for filing a lawsuit.

Early Wednesday afternoon, Mavrakis said he had not seen the letter.

He confirmed, though, that Retos attempted to show him a letter at the municipal complex Wednesday morning.

“But we had an argument Monday at the work session and I didn't want to talk to him,” Mavrakis said of Retos.

Mavrakis claimed Retos threatened to assault him and added that he notified police about the alleged threat.

Retos denied threatening the mayor.

“There were words exchanged over his treatment of certain employees and that he was acting inappropriately toward them,” Retos said.

Retos declined to comment on the letters earlier Wednesday, saying he wanted an opportunity to discuss them with the city solicitor prior to the business meeting.

When contacted late Wednesday morning, Council members Bukowski and Nestor said they had not seen the letters.

“I'm kind of flabbergasted right now,” Nestor said when informed about the accusations against Mavrakis.

Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or at Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb/.com

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