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Officials unconcerned by former sex harassment accusation against school worker

By Benjamin J. Gohs

Despite some parent concerns about an accused sexual harasser working with their children, Boyne City Public Schools officials plan to bring him back next school year.

The worker in question is former Charlevoix County Friend of the Court James “Jim” Raber—who currently works as a Restorative Practices Coordinator through Northern Community Mediation at Boyne City High School—who was accused of ongoing inappropriate comments and behavior toward fellow employees, one in particular, over a number of years while with the county … and then resigned abruptly amid a county investigation into the allegations.

Boyne City Gazette, acting on a tip from a concerned parent of Boyne City Public Schools children, in recent weeks executed a Freedom of Information request for documents relating to the 2016 Charlevoix County Human Resources Department investigation into allegations of sexual harassment in the Friend of the Court office.

In a January 2016 statement, the alleged victim claims Raber kissed her against her will, commented on her appearance daily, sat uncomfortably close, asked her what color her undergarments were each day so he could, “start his day with that knowledge,” made sexual motions with his hand, told her to stand on a chair and turn around if she wanted his attention “work-wise,” rubbed and touched her legs, buttocks, shoulders, hair, unzipped his pants, asked for oral sex, and routinely propositioned her for sex—in addition to a number of other alleged unwanted and overtly sexual gestures and comments.

“Specifically during the months of November and December 2015, Jim on many occasions would point out to me that he plans to have sex with me at least once before he retires,” the accuser stated. “He would remind me of this several times.”

The accuser also said in her statement that one time while working in the Friend of the Court hall, “he picked me up and caused me to land on him on the couch, me [REDACTED] straddled on his lap and he held me there while he attempted to [REDACTED] me. I immediately pushed myself off of him. He also tried to talk me into taking my pants off.”

The two-page statement by the accuser is packed with more allegations of misconduct.

According to investigation documents, in 2009, Raber was warned about his behavior by a Charlevoix County judge.

The alleged victim wrote, “This is EXTREMELY hard to write and so hard to remember everything as this was a DAILY thing that I experienced some level of sexual harassment!!”

Current Employers
When reached for comment, Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Pat Little said he had heard of concerns about Raber but that there have been no issues during Raber’s time working at the school.

“When Jim was contracted through Northern Mediation, this question was raised—soon after his hiring—and Dr. Millar (Northern Community Mediation Executive Director Jane Millar) assured me that she had investigated it with the county and that there was no concerns that were substantiated with Jim.”

Little said Raber works with students every day in the school building to help mediate low-level conflicts between students and their peers or staff members.

During the first interview with the Boyne City Gazette, Millar declined to comment on the matter other than to say that Northern Community Mediation had two “full” background checks performed on Raber—one through the Michigan State Police and one through DHHS.

She would not respond to questions about whether she had read the documents containing the allegations of sexual harassment or the related witness statements during her investigation prior to telling Little the accusations were unsubstantiated.

“Beyond that, I’m not going to comment because it’s a personnel issue,” Millar said. “If we had any concerns, we certainly would not be using his services.”

Witness Statements
In addition to the two-page victim statement received in the Freedom of Information request from Charlevoix County, the Boyne City Gazette also received eight questionnaire-style statements on Charlevoix County Human Resources letterhead dated Jan. 12, 2016, which show interviews of unnamed individuals in the presence of the Charlevoix County Human Resources Director.

The questionnaires ask the following:
1. Are you aware of the accusations against (Raber)?
2. Were you aware of previous accusations?
3. Did he (Raber) ever direct inappropriate comments or actions towards you?
4. Did you ever witness or hear inappropriate actions or comments towards others?
5. Have you noticed any change in his behavior recently?

All the respondents were aware of the accusations against Raber.

Five of the respondents were aware of previous accusations against Raber.

On the question of whether Raber had ever directed inappropriate comments or actions toward them, there were four yesses, and two maybes. On the question of whether any of the employees had witnessed or heard inappropriate actions or comments toward others, there were four yesses and one maybe.

Former Coworkers
Comments on the eight Charlevoix County employee questionnaires regarding Raber’s behavior were consistent with one another.

Raber allegedly made comments, “all the time that were inappropriate in one way or another” and “made comments she didn’t feel she could tell her husband.”

One respondent wrote that, “He made so many inappropriate comments that I probably should have been offended by them but I just got used to it and ignored it. After a while, you think Jim is Jim.”

One respondent stated, “He often made inappropriate comments in general and crossed the line with many people many times.”

One coworker said, “He asked inappropriate questions about her personal life she wouldn’t answer.”

Another coworker stated, “[I] was aware of most everything that had happened previously … but when it was reported and nothing was done, everyone had to learn to ‘just deal with it’ themselves and tell him when he was being inappropriate—which was all the time.”

Yet another coworker wrote, “There were such a constant barrage of comments it’s hard to choose specifics.” And that Raber would, “get inside people’s bubble—personal space—as if it were a way to see how close he could get.”

One coworker stated that Raber said repeatedly, “he doesn’t like strong-willed women.”

A number of those questioned said simply, “Jim is Jim” and that you get used to his behavior.

“He would do childish things like pulling hair in court and making jokes when working with clients going through divorce or custody,” stated one of the coworkers.

According to Northern Community Mediation’s website, “Jim was an intensive foster care worker and then became Friend of the Court in Charlevoix County from 2004 until early 2016, when he retired. He completed his State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) approved mediation training in May 2016.”

According to a Charlevoix County official with intimate knowledge of the case, the alleged victim’s complaint was made verbally to Judge Roy C. Hayes on Friday Jan. 8, 2016.

Raber was suspended “immediately” on Monday Jan. 11, 2016.

Charlevoix County’s investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment began Tuesday Jan. 12, 2016.

Then, in a 6 p.m., Tuesday Jan. 12, 2016 email from Jim Raber’s private email address to Judge Hayes, Raber states the following:

“Dear Judge Hayes, Please accept my resignation as Charlevoix Friend of the Court effective immediately, January 12, 2016. James C. Raber.”

In an e-mailed response 22 minutes later, Judge Hayes responds, “Jim, your resignation is accepted.”

Raber has worked at Boyne City High School through Northern Community Mediation since January 2017.

After initial interviews with both Little and Millar, the Boyne City Gazette provided both Boyne City Public Schools and Northern Community Mediation copies of the documents outlining the accusations against Raber for their review.

Both Little and Millar were asked if, after reviewing the documents, they still felt confident that Raber should be allowed to work at the school.
Following are the statements they gave after receiving the documents:

On Friday July 5, Little stated, “I can confirm that Jim Raber has worked with the school through Northern Mediation—they are a third-party contractor for his work—as a mediator in our Restorative Practices room. During this time, the district has not had any performance concerns or any behavioral concerns with Jim Raber. Our intent after this past school year was to bring him back into the same position for the 2019-20 school year.”
Millar stated on Friday July 5, “Northern Community Mediation worked closely with Jim Raber when he was with Friend of the Court and then as a mediator for NCM. In both cases, he was professional. His performance as the Restorative Practices Coordinator for the Boyne City School District has also been at a highly professional level.”

Raber did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

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