Following the recent release of an investigation concluding that Arcata City Councilmember Brett Watson committed sexual harassment against a female city staff member, the Arcata City Council will consider possible remedial actions against Watson, including censuring him, stripping him of his committee assignments and pursuing a restraining order.
Under “normal circumstances,” the city staff report states, corrective actions an organization could take in this situation would include demotion, suspension, reduction of salary or termination of the employee. But given that those are not options for a councilmember, the city must consider other alternatives. During a meeting next week, the council will be presented with several options outlined by the city’s employment counsel, Thomas O’Connell. According to the staff report, O’Connell recommends “at the minimum, that the City pursue a restraining order against Councilmember Watson.”
The 600-plus-page investigation report was issued on April 12 by Kramer Workplace Investigations, a Bay Area firm retained by the City, and includes testimony from multiple witnesses and several hundred pages of documentation related to the allegations, including emails and texts between Councilmember Watson and the staff member. The investigation report concluded that it is “undisputed” that Watson engaged in inappropriate behavior with the staff member and that his conduct was “motivated by his romantic interest” in her.
One thing the investigation did not include, however, was an interview with Watson himself. According to the report, investigators made multiple attempts to reach Watson for an interview through several different attorneys he retained between January and March of this year, and were ultimately unsuccessful in gaining his cooperation. Following the release of the report, Watson issued a statement rejecting that claim and saying that he made himself available to the investigator, but was denied a request for “reasonable accommodations.”
Reached by the Outpost this afternoon, Watson offered a more detailed explanation of his communications with the investigator. Because Watson suffers from both a learning disability and anxiety that make it difficult for him to respond to questions immediately, he said, he requested through his attorney that the investigator submit the interview questions in writing. Watson wanted to then respond in writing and would be open to a follow up interview in person.
Watson told the Outpost that, citing a separate email Watson had sent to city staff stating that it is difficult for him to type because his medication causes his hands to shake, the investigator would not accommodate Watson’s request. “They basically said, ‘well if you can’t type, how will you respond to written questions?’’’ Watson said, adding that he thought that was a “ridiculous question” because he could dictate and have somebody else type for him.
According to the staff report, the employment council notified Watson on April 26 of the results of the investigation and the city’s intention to take necessary actions to protect the employee. Watson was also advised that “in the course of the aforementioned investigation, the City became aware of additional allegations of inappropriate conduct by you towards other staff members including, but not limited to, engaging in further sexual harassment and create [sic] a hostile work environment.”
Based on that finding, the city asked that Watson cease all contact with city staff outside of normal working hours and also asked that he sign an acknowledgment of the receipt of the investigation findings and “agree to abide by the city’s requests.” The staff report states that Watson has not signed the acknowledgement and has “declined to stop engaging in the aforementioned communications or interactions with staff.”
In response to this, Watson told the Outpost that he has followed all the city’s guidelines in regard to contact with city employees and has initiated no contact with the employee who accused him of sexual harassment. Watson added that he thinks the investigation was poorly executed and that moving forward he plans to “vigorously defend himself.”
Watson also maintains his innocence and said that he had a mutual relationship with the staff member and that it came as a complete surprise to him when he was accused of harassment.
“We had a very close relationship,” Watson told the Outpost. “She was like a second mother to me. She told me she was my big sister.”
The Arcata City Council will meet on Tuesday, May 17 at 6 p.m. you can view the agenda and directions on how to participate here.
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