UPDATE, 7:35 p.m.: Watson sends the Outpost the following statement:
I received a copy of the investigation on May 4th after the rest of the council had access to it for over a week. I haven’t had a chance to review it in its entirety.
I made myself available to the investigator for several months. The staff worked with the investigator to deny me reasonable accommodations per an email sent from the staff to the investigator on February 10th.
Despite this, I made myself available to the investigator on March 25th per an email to staff. I followed up with staff on April 5th to reiterate my availability and that I had not been contacted by the investigator. I was never contacted by the investigator.
From the very beginning I’ve been denied due process and reasonable accommodations.
I’ve never harassed anyone in my life and I’ve worked tirelessly for the residents of Arcata.
I’ll likely make further comment after I’ve been able to completely review the report and additional documents.
I’m grateful to the public for their continued support over the last several months.
Driven by an “obsession” that extended over a period of years, Arcata City Councilmember Brett Watson committed workplace sexual harassment against the one of the city’s female employees.
That’s the conclusion of a 600-plus-page report that the city commissioned from Kramer Workplace Investigations, a firm based in the Bay Area town of Danville, in January, following a series of events that included Watson’s arrest for driving under the influence and drug possession, his ouster as the city’s mayor, a council vote of “no confidence” in him, a stint in a rehab facility, a public fight over his access to city staff members’ time and his proclamation that he has a learning disability that prevents him from fully understanding written material.
According to the report, investigators made several attempts to interview Watson through a series of three different lawyers he had retained between January and March of this year, but were ultimately unsuccessful in obtaining his cooperation.
The report includes several addenda, including a log the staff member starting keeping when she became concerned about Watson’s behavior, a string of emails Watson sent the staff member and a chain of text messages between the two. Through them, and through interviews with several people in city government, the report chronicles many months of disturbing and inappropriate behavior. It summarizes that behavior this way:
It is undisputed that Watson engaged the conduct attributed to him by [redacted] and that his conduct was motivated by his romantic interest in [redacted]. It is also undisputed that Watson abused his power as a City Councilmember by expecting [redacted] to spend time with him outside of City Hall; to respond to his calls and text messages outside of regular work hours; to engage in communications of a personal nature with him; and to hug him each time they met in his capacity as a Councilmember and her capacity as [redacted]. The credible evidence presented during the investigation establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that the allegations against Watson are sustained.
Among other things, the report finds that:
- Watson spoke of his romantic feelings for the staff member to other city employees.
- He placed inordinate demands on the staff member’s time, including twice-weekly “walks” together, during which he would frequently ask for hugs, which would sometimes last 20 or 30 seconds.
- He would send texts and emails to the staff member about personal matters at all hours of the evening and on weekends, including at least one in which he told her about his crumbling marriage, and would be upset when she didn’t answer.
- When he sensed her avoiding emotional intimacy with him, he threatened to schedule a closed-session item on the council agenda to review her performance.
According to the staff member’s log of events, sometime in mid-June 2020, while on one of their walks, Watson told her that he had developed feelings for her, which she rebuffed. However, she continued to try to help him through the emotional turmoil he was experiencing at the time.
This all culminated at a conference in Sacramento in September 2021, shortly before the rest of the city council removed Watson as the city’s mayor and took a vote of no confidence. According to witnesses quoted in the report, at that conference — which both Watson and the staff member attended, along with other city officials — Watson got upset after the staff member declined to join him for a late night glass of wine. A colleague offered to drink wine with him, and they ended up having a “deep conversation.”
According to a witness statement:
[Redacted] advised that Watson finished the rest of the wine and left her room, but noted that a short time later, he started sending her text messages saying that he was “tired of being sad” and that sometimes he wished he would “go to sleep and not wake up.” After exchanging text messages for a little while, Watson told [redacted] that he did not think he should be alone and that he was thinking about taking an extra sleeping pill. [Redacted] did not think Watson was suicidal, but thought he was “making a cry for help.” She felt manipulated, but he was “not letting her off the hook.” [Redacted] stated that she agreed to have Watson go back to her room, they chatted for a bit, and then he fell asleep on the second bed in her room. [Redacted] opined that Watson needed a friend that night, but she also felt she was “taken for a ride” and was irritated with him.
In the wake of this incident, the rest of the council learned about Watson’s “obsession” with the staff member, and they urged the staff member to speak to the city attorney about what could be done.
“I pretty much broke at this point and said while I know that opening this up will be very hard and painful that I can’t keep going and it is clear that I can’t make it stop on my own,” the staff member wrote in her log.
It’s unclear what the next steps are, especially given that Watson is an elected councilmember and can’t be fired. Legal action against him seems a possibility.
In the past, Watson has attributed his erratic behavior to mental health problems he suffered following the death of his father.
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