Tempe City Councilman Kolby Granville is expected to get reprimanded for using an expletive to describe what he thought of a city employee’s zoning advice.

The city paid an outside attorney to conduct an independent investigation, which concluded that Granville, a five-year member of the council, violated the city’s Code of Conduct.

The investigation stems from a verbal exchange between Granville and an assistant city attorney during a council working group meeting in January. The two had differing views on a zoning request and debated the issue for 30 minutes, outside attorney James Burr Shields said in his report.

At the end of the discussion, Granville told the assistant city attorney, who was not named in the report, that their advice was “sh–ty.”

“After this comment was uttered, there was immediate silence in the room,” Shields said in his report.

The assistant city attorney later told Shields that they feared losing their job if they objected. All but one person at the meeting told Shields the councilman’s actions were “really concerning” and “ridiculous,” the report said.

One person interviewed for the investigation said Granville “has a reputation of being abrupt and abrasive with staff.”

Granville in a statement to The Republic said that he regrets what happened.

“I deeply regret my word choice, accept full responsibility and extend a sincere apology to those involved,” the statement says.

Granville says his “sense of urgency and excitement” caused him to utter the expletive when he “was provided information from city staff that I believed was an incomplete and incorrect review of legal case law and would severely limit our ability to fight blight and gentrification.”

However, Granville went on to say it was “unbecoming of civil public discourse to use foul language.”

“We are not always the person we wish we were. In this case, I was not the person I wished I was. I understand that and I will continue to work on improving myself.”

The Tempe City Council on Thursday opted to pursue a letter of reprimand against Granville.

“We can’t take this lightly,” Mayor Mark Mitchell said.

Rules of behavior

This was the first time a member of the council has faced sanctions  since the city updated its code of conduct and ethics in the workplace in 2009.

“The members of the Tempe City Council desire to conduct their business in a manner that is legally and ethically beyond reproach,” the resolution says.

The Tempe Personnel Rules and Regulations prohibit abusive attitude, language, behavior and conduct towards another employee.

The maximum sanction that can be placed on a council member for violating the rules is “formal censure,” according to the investigation. A formal censure is when a figure is publicly condemned for actions deemed to be unacceptable.

“If the City of Tempe desires to take steps to minimize the repetition of this conduct,” Shields said in the report, “this Memorandum and the documents referred to in it can be provided to City Council members for their review and consideration as to whether to impose any sort of sanction which could include such a formal censure.”

He also suggested three other options:

  • An advisory letter,  which is a non-disciplinary letter to notify a responsible party if there was insufficient evidence to support action or that the violation was a minor or technical violation.  
  • A letter of reprimand, which is is a more serious disciplinary action for situations where the issue does not involve issues of serious moral or ethical lapses in conduct.  
  • The council could opt to take no further action. 

The outside investigation has cost Tempe $6,100 so far, according to an initial bill. City spokeswoman Nikki Ripley said she expects the total cost will increase.

Apology needed

Granville recused himself from the meeting on Thursday when this topic came up.

“We have some of the highest caliber staff members here in Tempe,” said Vice Mayor Robin Arredondo-Savage, noting that it’s a problem any time an employee fears speaking up.

The council agreed action was needed but that a formal censure was too extreme and a letter of reprimand would be most appropriate.

Shields said his research shows only one other Arizona city has formally censured a council member for a code of conduct violation but the actions were “far more egregious.”

The council also wanted to see Granville issue a formal apology. It was undecided whether the apology would be in public or private.

The council directed Shields to write the letter and present it to council for a vote on April 20.

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