By Ed Brock
A Jonesboro businesswoman says the city's code enforcement officer made unwanted contact with her while at her business on official business.
Code Enforcement Officer Anthony Butler says his accuser and her landlord are making up the allegation in retribution for citations he issued against the landlord.
Gwen Lee, 51, came before the Jonesboro City Council Monday night to ask them what they would do about the incident that supposedly occurred last May. She said Butler was at her shop, Inside and Out auto care and thrift store at 255 S. Main St., to discuss possible code violations.
Their conversation turned personal and they discussed her being divorced and the problems her son was having at his residence. Butler touched her on the shoulder and at one point put his arm around her shoulder, Lee said.
Butler asked her if she dated, to which she said no, and "offered to pay me for my companionship every Friday," Lee told the council.
In an interview with Jonesboro Police Sgt. Rene Chamblee on June 11 Lee, then identified by her married name Gwen Bishop, told Chamblee that Butler asked if she would ever marry again, to which she said no. Butler then said "You mean to tell me that you wouldn't marry me? ... Even if I gave you my check every week?"
At that time and now Lee said the comment may have been a joke, but it made her uncomfortable as did Butler's touching her. Butler said this week that she believes Butler was flirting with her.
But she didn't want to report the situation to the city, Lee said.
"I was embarrassed, very embarrassed," Lee said.
Instead, Lee's long-time landlord, Jack Branan, who learned about the incident from Lee and one of Lee's part-time employees, made a complaint to Mayor Joy Day. Branan said that was a couple of weeks after the incident occurred.
The mayor and city council members brought the matter to City Manager Jon Walker's attention. Walker said he had never talked to Lee before Monday night, but instead asked the police department to talk to Lee.
Lee told Chamblee that she didn't think Butler's actions were intended as a sexual advance and in a July 6 memo Walker wrote that, based on Chamblee's interview, "the allegations were found to have no merit."
Butler was told about the allegations and told Walker that he did not remember touching Lee but if he did it was only on the shoulder or shoulder blades. Walker also told Butler not to engage in personal conversations with citizens while in the discourse of his duties for the city. No other action was taken.
Walker said there have been no similar accusations made against Butler since the city made him code enforcement officer in July 2003.
Butler said the accusation started after he cited Branan for problems with several properties around town.
"This is his way of retaliation," Butler said.
Lee and Branan said Butler is retaliating against them for "telling on him" by issuing the citations.
The citations were issued May 11, two days after the incident supposedly occurred but apparently prior to Branan's reporting the incident to city hall. Lee said that before Branan made his complaint Jonesboro Police Chief Robert Thomas came to her to inquire about a report that one of his officers, Sgt. Pat Cauchy, had made an improper advance toward her.
Cauchy had stopped to talk to Butler and Lee on the day of the alleged incident and after he left Butler told Lee that he didn't like Cauchy. Based on that, she thought Butler must have told Thomas that Cauchy was the one making an advance on her to get out of trouble.
Butler said that Lee had told him previously that Cauchy made a pass at her and that he had nothing against Cauchy. Lee said Cauchy never acted inappropriately toward her.
Cauchy also said he had made no advances toward Lee and he was unaware of any investigation by Thomas into such allegations. He said he did see Butler and Lee on the day of the incident but didn't witness any improper behavior between them.
Lee said she has moved out of the city since the incident occurred because she was worried about retaliation from Butler. She tried to arrange a closed-door discussion with Walker and Day about the incident but said nobody from the city contacted her or met with her.
At Monday's meeting Day said several times that she had met with Lee but Lee told her no, she hadn't.
As for what happens now, Lee said "I don't care what they do with him now." However, she is also thinking about consulting an attorney.
Walker said that Lee "can come back in and we'll look at it again."