Alex Vanegas, Purcellville’s interim town manager who was placed on administrative leave Nov. 21 as the town investigated allegations of misconduct, filed a complaint against Town Attorney Sally Hankins on Friday with allegations of sexual harassment.
Mayor Kwasi Fraser said today Vanegas made the complaint via email and that it was almost simultaneously made public.
“The Town of Purcellville takes all allegations of sexual harassment very seriously,” he said. “Immediately, we have begun working with our HR team to promptly review and investigate this and other recent allegations.”
Fraser said the town would provide more details on the situation “to the greatest extent possible.”
“We are committed to learning what has occurred, being transparent with the people of Purcellville and putting into place systems to ensure best practices moving forward,” he said.
A day after Vanegas filed the complaint against Hankins, the town served him with a cease and desist order barring him from speaking with the media. Fraser said the order “did not pertain to the allegation [Vanegas] made.” He said Hankins advised council to issue the order after seeing a quote from Vanegas in the media relating to staff personnel files.
This is the third ongoing investigation in town, adding to the investigation of Vanegas’ conduct and the audit of the investigation into the conduct of Police Chief Cynthia McAlister, which resulted in Vanegas firing her. McAlister has since been reinstated to the post, but remains on administrative leave pending that audit.
The harassment complaint also came a day after Vanegas said in an interview that he was confident the investigation into his conduct would shed a positive light on him. Vanegas said if it was handled independently, and not internally, the facts would reveal wrongdoing within town and show that he has done nothing wrong.
“There’s so many things that [the investigators] need to look into,” he said. “I am confident once the independent investigation is complete I will be vindicated.”
In the same interview, he said he felt the audit of the investigation on McAlister would show the findings were justified. “I welcome an independent audit on all accounts,” he said.
The town announced Nov. 19 that Vanegas had allegedly been involved in an inappropriate personal relationship with Georgia Nuckolls, the human resources consultant he hired to help lead the two-month-long investigation on McAlister. After that disclosure, the Town Council agreed to commission an outside review of the investigation to ensure it was not tainted by the relationship.
Vanegas, however, said his relationship with Nuckolls was just a good friendship.
“When you work with people, you develop a friendship,” he said. “I think [certain people] exaggerated that and tried to make it look like it was more than it was.”
Vanegas said the claims were exaggerated to take the focus off the alleged misconduct of McAlister. “I am confident … the investigation of the chief will stand on its merit,” he said.
Vanegas also said that he helped the town by finding mistakes in personnel files, such as unsecured birth certificates. According to him, some members of staff got upset when he started pointing out these mistakes out.
Fraser directed questions about Vanegas’ claims to Hankins. In a response emailed to Loudoun Now, Hankins said, “The allegation against me is not true and I will cooperate fully with the Town’s investigation of the complaint.”
According to a previous town statement, the original McAlister investigation found that she had acted outside the scope of her job as police chief, engaged in selective enforcement, violated General Orders concerning internal affairs investigations, practiced employee intimidation, was untruthful and violated town and police procedural policies.
The town is now in the process of “retaining an independent investigator to conduct an audit and investigation of actions taken by the Interim Town Manager over the last several months,” according to a Nov. 21 town statement. Fraser also wrote in a letter to the editor on Nov. 25 that the town would be moving forward with a “top-to-bottom organizational review conducted by an independent third party.”