An investigation into allegations against Stark County Commissioner Ken Zander has concluded the longtime commissioner did not engage in unlawful harassment, workplace harassment, sexual harassment, retaliation or violations of the county’s payroll policies. The investigation did conclude, however, that Zander violated the county’s electronic tools policy.
According to the investigation report, a probe conducted by investigator KrisAnn Norby-Jahner into each of the 19 allegations levied against Zander by a female county employee — whose identity is being withheld for this article — outlined the nature and scope of the investigation as stemming from complaints involving sexual harassment and retaliation.
The employee alleges that Zander grabbed her buttocks and leaned in to kiss the woman during a work hours meeting, and that when told “never touch me again” Zander allegedly responded by yelling at her, “You better do what I tell you to do.” Zander recalled the meeting, but denied shouting and adamantly denied he made any advances to the woman, saying that there were no attempts to kiss or touch the woman in any way. The investigator determined that there was not enough evidence to make a factual determination that this incident occurred as alleged.
The employee alleges that Zander sent multiple text messages with lewd, inappropriate and non-work-related images and text. Zander admitted to sending the messages, but stated that they were taken out of context and intended only as jokes and not intended to be offensive. The investigator determined that the evidence led to a factual determination that these incidents did occur as alleged, and that the text messages contained sexual innuendos and that Zander’s explanations were not credible.
The employee alleges that Zander pulled his vehicle next to hers and gestured with his hand in a motion going in and out of his mouth while using his tongue to push his cheek out. Zander said that he did not recall the date in question and adamantly denied the incident occurred. The investigator determined that there was not enough evidence to make a factual determination that the incident occurred as alleged, but that it was believable based on the text exchanges and emails containing sexual innuendos and jokes that were supported by evidence.
The employee alleges that Zander placed a plate of pumpkin bars on her vehicle seat and made a statement concerning sex, to which she responded that it was inappropriate for him to say that, to which he laughed. Zander admitted to opening the employee's vehicle door and placing the pumpkin bars on her passenger seat, but denies making any statements alluding to sex. The investigator determined that there was not enough evidence to make a factual determination that this incident occurred as alleged, but that it was believable based on the text exchanges and emails that were supported by evidence.
The employee alleges that an anonymous person informed her that they had a recording of a conversation occurring in a bar between Zander and other prominent members of the community, and that the audio recording captured Zander referring to the employee's “fat ass” and that she “waddles around” her place of work. Zander did not recall any specific conversation in a bar referring to the employee, nor the comments as alleged. He stated that he apologized to the employee only because he was being accused of saying something that he does not recall ever saying. The investigator determined that there was no evidence to support a factual determination that Zander engaged in the name-calling in a bar as alleged, and that the audio recordings provide more conclusory evidence that Zander was attempting to support the employee in her position with Stark County.
The employee alleges that she was retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment. Norby-Jahner determined the evidence does not support any occurrences of retaliation or any attempt of retaliation as insinuated or alleged in relation to this incident.
The Press reached out to Zander for comment and received the following response, “Regarding your request for comment. As you know this investigation is supposed to be confidential and I have maintained respect for the process and parties involved. I have reviewed your request with my attorney Mr. Mike Geiermann and he will be happy to respond on my behalf.”
Attempts to reach Geiermann for comment went unanswered.