Cheryl Davila, Berkeley City Council, Dec. 11, 2018. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The city of Berkeley paid $31,000 to an aide in Councilmember Cheryl Davila’s office in 2018 after the aide raised concerns about misconduct and what she described as a hostile work environment, newly released documents show.

In exchange for the payout, the employee agreed to resign as Davila’s legislative assistant, a position she held for nearly 1.5 years starting in January 2017, the records show.

In recent months, as election season heated up, numerous people asked Berkeleyside to look into the workplace misconduct allegations against Cheryl Davila, who has had at least four legislative assistants since her election to the District 2 Berkeley City Council seat four years ago. Berkeleyside filed a Public Records Act request in October seeking documents involving “any complaints of alleged or actual misconduct involving Councilmember Cheryl Davila.” On Nov. 20, the city made 17 pages of records available, including its 7-page settlement agreement with the legislative aide.

According to the June 2018 settlement agreement, the aide had filed a complaint with the city “raising concerns about the District Two office working environment” as well as Davila’s “work performance and judgment.”

The aide — whose name was redacted by the city — originally raised her concerns with Berkeley’s city manager in late 2017 “about denial of overtime, a workplace injury” and other unspecified interactions with the council member, according to the documents. The aide had described the environment as “hostile,” the city manager wrote.

The city hired an investigator to look into the allegations, according to the records, but the aide later decided not to pursue the complaint.

“I hope all is going well for you,” City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley wrote to the aide in February 2018, “and you and Councilmember Davila have been able to work through any challenging workplace issues.”

But the situation did not improve. In April 2018, the city placed the aide on paid leave while investigating counter-allegations against her, according to the documents.

No details were provided about those claims, which are considered a confidential personnel matter.

Unlike line-level municipal employees, workplace misconduct allegations against elected officials are considered public records because of the broader civic role and responsibilities politicians hold.

Cheryl Davila misconduct claims led to payout, resignation

In July 2018, the city cut the aide a check for about $21,000 — the settlement amount of $30,706 minus all taxes and withholdings — and she agreed to resign.

The aide declined to speak to Berkeleyside about the settlement on the record.

“Although I got a severance package, I walked away from a good job, benefits, job security and any hopes of making a difference,” she said this week. “I was sad and angry to leave a position that I loved.”

Davila’s attorney, James Cook of the John Burris Law Offices in Oakland, responded Tuesday on her behalf to a request for comment on the allegations. Cook said he had represented Davila in the matter previously.

“Councilwoman Davila served her term with the utmost integrity and respect for her position,” he wrote. “Ms. Davila was under the impression that any dispute with her former aid was resolved amicably. Any accusations of misconduct or hostile work environment are untrue and unfounded.”

Cook also said Berkeley “did not make the Councilwoman aware of the terms of any settlement agreement between the City of Berkeley and her former aide.”

Davila’s final council meeting comes tonight, Dec. 1, and her District 2 replacement, Terry Taplin, will be sworn in Wednesday. Taplin defeated Davila with 62% of the vote in the city’s only ranked-choice contest of 2020.

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...