Deer Park Mayor Bob Dano isn’t afraid of a little change.
Soon after taking the small town’s top post in 1994, he tore out rotting flower beds that had graced the front of City Hall for 50 years.
But when it comes to women’s fashion, the 72-year-old former cattle rancher is a bit more conservative. He wants the four women in his office - whom he calls “his girls” - to wear long skirts, modest blouses and staid colors.
Their yen for hot pink, fitted business suits and tapered slacks has pulled women’s fashion out of the closet and onto the Deer Park City Council agenda.
The women filed a grievance with the Teamsters union last month claiming Dano’s criticism of their wardrobes is harassment.
What’s worse, they say, is that Dano changes the fashion code on a whim. One day, they say, skirts above the knee are kosher. The next, they are cause for reprimand.
“It’s bizarre, but it’s so Deer Park,” says one office worker.
Dano says he consistently enforces good taste and a professional fashion code that doesn’t let a woman “show off what you’d call your highlights.
“When a woman wears a skirt up to here and sits down in front of you and crosses her legs, what are you supposed to look at?” asks Dano. “I won’t have that in my office.
“I just want a neat, professionallooking office environment.”
City Attorney David Burdega is negotiating with union representatives to keep the issue out of court.
They are discussing revisions, but hot pink remains a sticking point, said Dennis Young, business agent for Teamsters Local 582. “The dress code is not the issue. We just want people to be treated fairly,” he says.
“It’s unbelievable,” says another worker. “If he’s angry with you, he uses the dress code.”
There is no written men’s dress code, although Dano prohibits facial hair. Men wearing hot pink has not come up in negotiations, Young says.
The debate causes City Councilman Doug Box to sweat like he’s wearing wool in July, fearing the women may file a sexual harassment lawsuit. None has, although at least two are considering it.
“This could get expensive real fast,” says Box, 36-year-old manager of a fax-repair company.
“The problem is that he has a 1950s mentality,” he says of Dano. “I believe it’s the good old boy syndrome, like, ‘This is my town.”’
Residents say the conflict is indicative of rapid changes which are forcing big city issues into bucolic Deer Park, a farming community of 2,750 about 20 miles north of Spokane.
The school board recently discussed homophobia in its classrooms after a gay student was threatened by classmates. Some residents protested formation of a Deer Park Arts Commission last year, fearing risque exhibits. The town’s first McDonald’s just opened. Development is starting to line U.S. Highway 395.
“I see people who would like us to operate like we did 40 years ago, people who would still like us to administer corporal punishment,” says School Superintendent Glenys Hill. “Sometimes we’d like to, but today is a different time.”
Several workers say Dano’s comments border on sexual harassment, but none would give their names, fearing retribution. The four women working at City Hall are City Clerk Christine McCoy, court clerk Leslie Simpson, utility clerk Eldeen Bennett and accountant Sheila Creekmore.
According to the women, the mayor once asked one of them to pirouette so a lunchroom filled with men could check out her outfit, a worker says.
Another time, he allegedly looked down a woman’s blouse, commenting on its scoop-neck design. Yet another time, he told two women they should swap clothes because their outfits would look better on each other.
Other instances are more bizarre than offensive. He once brought a women’s fashion magazine to the office to show a worker wearing orthopedic shoes more appropriate footwear.
The women complained to the Teamsters in 1995 after two got verbal reprimands. Dano made the policy more specific, explicitly banning anything hot pink - which the mayor calls “picnic pink” - and textures which don’t “hold a crease.”
“He’d like us in polyester. He thinks the clothes of that era are appropriate,” says an office worker.
“This is thumb-screw management,” says Box.
City Councilman Robert Whisman disagrees. He praises Dano for being an excellent manager and for turning the previously part-time, $400-a-month post into a full-time job. Dano is retired.
“Bob and I, we don’t always agree, but I think he’s been one of the best mayors in terms of serving the city,” says Whisman, 35.
Whisman scoffs at the idea of Dano discriminating against women. “You can’t look at somebody cross-eyed these days without somebody claiming discrimination.”
Dano says he’s going to continue his micro-management style. He promises to abide by alterations to the dress code, but the women in the office, he says, need to remember who’s boss.
“I guess they are individuals who don’t like to be told what to wear,” says Dano, shrugging.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: DRESS CODE EXCERPTS “Dresses should be mid-knee, slacks should not be tight-legged or tapered severely and should be of a material that can be pressed and will hold a crease. Loud or garish colors, such as hot pink are unsuitable. Pullover sweat shirts do not constitute blouses. Necklines on blouses should not be low cut.”
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