Fitchburg Mayor Jason Gonzalez was twice disciplined — once for sexual harassment — while working as a firefighter and emergency medical technician in Oregon in 2007, according to records obtained by the Cap Times.
The disciplinary actions are not the only workplace problems for Gonzalez, who is running for reelection this spring against District 3 Ald. Aaron Richardson. In 2018, he was publicly reprimanded by the Wisconsin Supreme Court for his work as a lawyer.
In a written statement to the Cap Times on Friday, Gonzalez admitted his wrongdoing and said he owned his mistakes, pointing out they happened over 10 years ago.
"At the time of those mistakes, as a 23-year old, I took responsibility for my actions, did what I could right away to rectify them with the people most affected, and fully complied with the department’s disciplinary decisions," Gonzalez wrote.
"I was a volunteer paid-on-call firefighter/EMT for more than 14 years and was honored to take part in the meaningful work we did as first responders to save lives and keep the community safe. I regret the mistakes I made and offer no excuses."
Records from Gonzalez’s time as a firefighter/EMT for the Oregon Area Fire and EMS District include two disciplinary actions in 2007, one for sexual harassment and one for repeatedly missing assigned shifts.
Gonzalez worked for the district from May 30, 2005, until Dec. 10, 2007.
The first notice of discipline, dated July 31, 2007, and signed by then-Chief David Bloom, said Gonzalez and two other male employees made “unwelcome” phone calls late at night to a female employee and asked sexually explicit questions. Gonzalez received a 30-day suspension and was required to write a letter of apology.
The Cap Times sought disciplinary notices of the two other employees involved in the incident. Oregon Area Fire/EMS could not find records for one employee and the other employee received a lesser punishment of 15 days suspension and a requirement to write an apology letter.
In his apology letter, Gonzalez said that he “was not aware” that the woman had been called, and said his comment was actually directed at one of the other two employees in the room.
“Though I did not intend for you to hear my comment, the comment itself was inappropriate and there was no place for it at the workplace,” he wrote.
He also apologized for not ending the conversation once he realized the woman was on the phone.
In his statement on Friday, Gonzalez repeated this explanation of the incident, saying he didn't make the call, but didn't stop it, and that he used an "inappropriate word" that was directed at one of the men in the room.
According to another disciplinary notice dated Oct. 22, 2007, after he returned from suspension, Gonzalez did not show up for a total of 73 hours of work during September and October without giving any notice. In the disciplinary notice, Gonzalez was told that if he was late or missed a shift in the following six months, he would be dismissed.
“I have reviewed, with you, the serious position that you put the District in when you do not show up for a shift and you are part of the crew to make the ambulance legally staffed under Wisconsin Statutes,” Bloom wrote.
Current Oregon Fire Chief Glenn Linzmeier said Gonzalez would not have been paid for the shifts he missed, as employees needed to clock in or sign in to their shifts.
That disciplinary notice also said that some of Gonzalez’s hours were changed in the computer system using a manager password, which Gonzalez “should not have access to but it appears that you may have acquired a password in some way.”
“You claim that you do not have a password but no one else would have an interest in changing your shifts,” Bloom wrote.
In his statement, Gonzalez called his behavior in missing shifts "inexcusable."
OTHER WORKPLACE PROBLEMS
Those incidents occurred over 10 years ago, but they weren't the last of Gonzalez’s workplace troubles.
Gonzalez attended the University of Wisconsin Law School from 2007 to 2010, founding Gonzalez Law Office LLC in 2011. His time at the Oregon Fire Department overlapped with his work as a firefighter and EMT for the Fitchburg Fire Department from 2007 to 2017. In 2013, he claimed the District 3 Fitchburg City Council seat and was elected mayor in 2017.
In November 2018, Gonzalez was publicly reprimanded by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on five counts of misconduct for his work as a lawyer and ordered to pay $9,733.36, the cost of the disciplinary proceedings. The original complaint against Gonzalez was based on his representation of two former clients.
Gonzalez was also sued by a former client last year for legal malpractice. The client, Jama Jama, was found guilty of two felony sexual assaults, two felony counts of burglary and misdemeanor theft, and had to register as a sex offender.
Jama was later granted a new trial by Dane County Judge Ellen Berz, who cited Gonzalez’s poor representation, and Jama’s felonies were eventually dismissed. Isthmus reported that according to Berz, Gonzalez rarely communicated with his client, made up information and “cobbled together his multiple, conflicting defense theories.”
Jama’s civil suit against Gonzalez was dismissed in February. According to Wisconsin legal precedent, plaintiffs in legal malpractice suits have to prove that the criminal defendant was innocent. And while Jama’s felonies were dismissed, he pled guilty to the theft misdemeanor.
“It seems to me at least where the state of the law is in Wisconsin right now, I can’t pick and choose what (Jama) was innocent of and what he was guilty of, all rising out of the same situation,” Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn said during oral arguments made in October 2018.
Asked to comment on the dismissal of this case, Gonzalez said in his statement it was dismissed "at the earliest possible stage," adding that "in general, the reason cases get dismissed this early on — before the defense has even filed an answer to the complaint — is because the complaint is frivolous and does not have validity."
The mayor of Fitchburg will be a one-year position in 2019, but in 2020 will transition to a three-year role. According to Fitchburg ordinances, duties of the mayor include presiding at City Council meetings, signing ordinances and making nominations to committees, boards and commissions. The mayor can veto actions of the City Council, including budget amendments. The mayor is paid $10,000 per year.
The Fitchburg mayoral election takes place April 2.
"The people of Fitchburg know me as a caring and compassionate Mayor who works hard on behalf of every resident. I am not perfect, but I am a better person — and a better public servant today — having learned from my past mistakes," Gonzalez wrote in his Friday statement to the Cap Times.