March 9 2016 01:12 PM

Was the McIntyre settlement motivated by a threat?

As speculation swirls around why Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero agreed to a settlement with former City Attorney Janene McIntyre, one story line is if he had not, she would have sued the city for sexual harassment.

City Pulse published a web story on Feb. 19 that McIntyre was considering suing the city for sexual harassment. That story was based on two sources, neither of whom wanted to be identified.

After the story appeared, McIntyre’s attorney, Jamie White, called me to complain about an inaccuracy in the story, which was that we had reported McIntyre had been placed on leave when the leave was voluntarily. We’d already corrected the story, but White apparently did not know this.

White did not ask for our conversation to be off the record — and then went on to out himself as one of our reporter’s sources. Angry about the story’s error, he said he would not longer corroborate what he had confirmed earlier, which was that McIntyre was considering a sexual harassment suit. I even offered to go off the record to try to understand his position. He declined, saying he no longer trusted City Pulse on any basis.

White also called the story “premature” — not wrong, just apparently inconvenient to his legal strategy.. At least, that’s how I took it.

The next morning, Bernero called me. Calmly, he volunteered that sexual harassment had not been raised in talks with McIntrye. Then, asking to go off the record, he gave a different explanation.

With the primary source no longer willing to corroborate a possible sexual harassment suit and the mayor offering a different explanation, I pulled down the web story. It was replaced with a straightforward report that McIntyre was on leave without explanation.

The new story carried a note that said City Pulse had incorrectly reported earlier that McIntyre was considering a sexual harassment lawsuit. That note went too far, since the original sources had not recanted. I only learned of the wording when I read it online and considered writing something to, in essence, correct our correction. However, I decided not to, thinking that story was snakebit and opting to leave well enough alone.

I write this column today more than a bit torn. It’s no small thing to raise the specter of sexual harassment. But given that the city has not been forthcoming about her status and has agreed to a large settlement without explanation, and given the possibility that a dire threat of sexual harassment CLAIMS, no matter how unfair it might be, could certainly motivate such an unexplained agreement, I believe Lansing residents have the right to know what we know and can report without violating confidences. What really happened to cause McIntyre to leave, I don’t know. But I do know that that taxpayers will pay for it. It’s our money and we’re due an explanation. Perhaps reporting what we were told will help get us that.