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W. Hollywood Councilman Apologizes

Government: Jeffrey Prang blames excessive drinking, poor judgment for Portland groping incident.

October 05, 1999|JOHN C. MITCHELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A West Hollywood city councilman publicly apologized Monday night for sexually harassing a city employee at a gay pride gathering in Portland, an incident that triggered stringent new policies.

"I drank too much and my behavior was not professional," Councilman Jeffrey Prang said. " . . . I'm embarrassed by my behavior, and I take full responsibility for my actions."

The incident occurred the day before the June 19 Portland Gay Pride Parade, as Prang and a delegation of West Hollywood officials, cheerleaders and the city's drill team toured Portland bars to drum up enthusiasm for the parade.

"After the drill team and the cheerleaders finished performing for patrons at a bar called Slaughters, Jeff approached one employee on the floor and began groping him," said Councilman Steve Martin, who later interviewed the man. "It was totally inappropriate. He had too much to drink."

Recently retired City Manager Charles F. Makinney said he "saw Jeff engage in some conduct with one of our employees that I felt was grossly inappropriate. When I learned it was not consensual, I said cut that out. He ignored me."

Makinney said that Prang was intoxicated and insisted on being introduced as mayor.

Prang, 36, whose apology was televised on the local cable channel, said he is "taking appropriate steps to assure that such lapses in judgment don't happen again."

News of the incident began to spread last month when the City Council revamped the city's sexual harassment policy to include elected and appointed officials. That action followed an internal investigation of the Prang incident.

The council also decided to require its own members and the city staff undergo intensive training and took steps to make it easier for city staff to file complaints.

Prang, who works for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department as a civilian field deputy, had refrained from making any comment after the incident. Mayor John Heilman had acknowledged it, without naming names. He said the councilman involved was seeking counseling.

For many, that was not enough.

"Our reputation as a progressive city would be called into question if we failed to confront this situation," said Martin. "Clintonesque denials and obfuscations only exacerbate the agony." Martin called for a public apology.

Heilman said that now that Prang has apologized and sought counseling, the council should return to business.

"We have investigated the matter," he said.

"We have taken steps with Jeff to make sure it doesn't ever happen again. It is important that everyone be trained on what is and is not acceptable behavior."

The city is canceling its participation in an upcoming Palm Springs gay pride parade, Heilman said.

It also is developing guidelines for employees who conduct business out of town.

Heilman said Prang will be restricted from traveling on behalf of the city for a year.

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