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Fort Oglethorpe council member faces third harassment claim

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FORT OGLETHORPE, GA. (WRCB) -- Ask any two Fort Oglethorpe residents, man and woman, what sexual harassment is, and their definitions may not mesh.

"Maybe they're hitting on a woman, and they're doing it the wrong way," says Brad Harberts, a divorced father of two.

"It's asking someone to do something they don't want to, " says Fannie Bolton, a Licensed Practical Nurse. "It's using sex as a tool or a weapon."

Channel 3 has learned that 4th Ward City Councilman Charles Sharrock is facing his third claim of sexual harassment, since first taking office in 2008.

City Manager Ron Goulart confirms that Sharrock's accuser is a Fort Oglethorpe detective, who alleges that Sharrock subjected her to unwanted physical contact during an encounter at the Police Department October 9.

Channel 3 contacted the accuser. She has declined comment until the investigation is complete and City Council has decided whether to sanction Sharrock.

Sharrock faced similar allegations in 2008 and 2009.

"I won't get into those specifics, because I don't want to taint this investigation," Goulart says.

Channel 3 has filed an open records request to review those earlier investigations. But officials had not acted on that request as of Thursday evening.

Goulart confirms, however, that those allegations prompted him to schedule a seminar on federal law and city policies regarding sexual harassment for all of Fort Oglethorpe's elected officials.

City workers; from police officers to firefighters to administrative personnel, undergo such instruction as a condition of their employment, Goulart says.

"I guess you could say it was mandatory. Everyone attended, "Goulart explains. "I don't think there was any resistance."

Goulart confirms Sharrock received a certificate of completion, indicating that he would have been made aware that Fort Oglethorpe's personnel code defines sexual harassment not only as, "unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors", but also as, "any behavior that is not welcome, personally offensive or fails to respect the rights of others," including "suggestive objects or pictures."

Sharrock has declined our request for an on-camera interview. He would not confirm or deny his accuser's claims when we reached him by phone.

"She's said some very bad things about two other council members, too," Sharrock says. "That's all I'm saying."

Goulart won't say whether the accuser has made such allegations.

"I can tell you I've uncovered no other claim I consider to be credible," he says.

Goulart will present his findings to city council, Mayor Lynn Long, and City Attorney Robert Stultz in closed session next Monday (October 22).

He concedes that a finding of sanction would impose no stronger penalty than conditions which Sharrock has abided by since the investigation began October 12.

"He (Sharrock) has agreed and thinks it's appropriate that he not have contact with the individual or with the Police Department," Goulart says.

Were Sharrock a city employee, the Personnel Code provides a choice of penalties ranging from verbal reprimands, to written reprimands, to suspension, or termination.

Unlike Tennessee, Georgia requires that petitioners 'show cause' before elected officials would face a recall at the polls.

Georgia law defines 'cause' as malfeasance, failure to perform official duties, and official or criminal misconduct.

"Those claims pretty much have to be proven," Goulart says. "Put up a recall on false or unproven pretenses, and you can be sued."

Harberts and Bolton agree that one person's idea of affection or caring, could make the object of that attention, uncomfortable.

"It's such a gray area, some guys may not know they're crossing the line," Harberts says.

"Some women may not understand a man's humor, or vice versa," Bolton says. "But if you tell someone they should make an effort to curb their behavior, that people find it offensive, and they don't? They're doing it on purpose."

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