Tuesday, January 11, 2022

UPDATED: City of Arcata Launches Outside Investigation; Councilmember Watson Denies Allegations

Posted By on Tue, Jan 11, 2022 at 1:01 PM

The city of Arcata announced today that it has hired an outside investigator to look into a report of possible violations of the city’s anti-discrimination and harassment policy by Councilmember Brett Watson.

Under normal circumstances, a city release states, the person facing allegations under these circumstances would be placed on administrative leave or would have their duties reassigned but the situation differs due to Watson's position as an elected official.

“Because Councilmember Watson cannot be placed on administrative leave, the city council adopted special protocols through which he may interact with city staff to continue performing all of his duties as an elected official while having restricted contact with potential victims and witnesses,” it states.

Few other details were released, with the city stating that it is "unable to disclose the nature of the potential violations, the names of the potential victims and witnesses, or the special protocol applicable to Councilmember Watson. Investigations, by design, are conducted independently and develop based on each witness’s information; therefore, they do not have a specified timeline."

In a statement released this afternoon, Watson denied the allegations, saying he has “not done anything to warrant such an allegation” and fears “these allegations are motivated by my continued efforts to hold city staff accountable with timely answers to my questions on behalf of my constituents.”

“I have to believe that I’ll be given due process during this investigation, although nobody has told me what I am accused of having done wrong, who the potential victims are, or the identities of any witness,” Watson states, saying he hopes the investigation is concluded soon “so that we can all get back to the business of running the city."

On Oct. 20, Watson’s city council colleagues voted unanimously that they had no confidence in his ability to serve on the council and replaced him as mayor.

Watson, who did not attend and had previously been arrested for driving under the influence, later issued a statement saying that he was entering "a 30-day residential rehabilitation program to focus on depression and personal issues."

He has since returned to the dais.

Now Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar was selected to replace him during a special session called before the regular Oct. 20 council meeting.

Vice Mayor Emily Goldstein, who was also appointed to her position at the meeting, then read a somewhat lengthy but vague statement before moving that the council cast a no-confidence vote, which — she noted — Watson had been informed would take place.



"We have no legal ability to remove him from the city council. However, I believe we owe it to the people of Arcata to make it clear — we do not align ourselves with the actions of Councilmember Watson," Goldstein read at the Oct. 20 meeting. "This last week, information came to light regarding alleged behaviors of Councilmember Watson that negatively affected the city and some of its staff members.

"It is our responsibility now, as the council, to protect the well-being of our employees and the ability of our city to run smoothly," she continued. "While to some of you it may seem unfair that we are moving forward with this vote of no confidence when Councilmember Watson is not present, we did feel it was important to be transparent with the residents of Arcata and share that this decision of leadership rotation and this proposed vote were made based on a body of information, although some of this cannot be shared publicly at this time. I have previously conveyed my thoughts to Councilmember Watson and he has been made aware that this vote would move forward at this evening's council meeting. I do not take this decision lightly. I have shared all I can at this time and the city will address the alleged actions in a confidential manner."

Today’s Arcata release notes “no finding has been made as to whether a violation of the city’s policy has occurred, and we are committed to due process throughout this investigation.”

“The city will seek to balance the public’s interest in knowing the conduct of its elected officials against the privacy rights of the affected employees,” the release states. “Once the investigation is completed, the City will determine what, if any, additional information can be disclosed to the public.”

Read the full statement from Brett Watson below:

I believe in anti-discrimination and anti-harassment; harassment and discrimination have no place in the workplace. I am sorry the allegation against me was raised, but I have not done anything to warrant such an allegation. I have to believe that I’ll be given due process during this investigation, although nobody has told me what I am accused of having done wrong, who the potential victims are, or the identities of any witness. I fear that these allegations are motivated by my continued efforts to hold city staff accountable with timely answers to my questions on behalf of my constituents. If true, that’s disappointing. It is my sincere hope that this investigation will be concluded shortly so that we can all get back to the business of running the city.


Read the full Arcata release below:

Arcata, CA, January 11, 2022 – The Arcata City Council has received a report of potential violations of the City’s Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Policy by Councilmember Brett Watson and has hired an outside investigator to investigate the alleged violations.

The City is committed to providing an environment for its employees that is free from discrimination or harassment, and through its Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Policy, has adopted zero tolerance of such conduct. This Policy rests on the fundamental precept that each employee, City Council member, Commission member, Committee member, vendor and contractor must treat others with respect, dignity, and professionalism. In a typical matter of this type, the City protects potential victims and witnesses from potential retaliatory conduct by the person accused of discrimination or harassment by eliminating all interactions between the accused person with the potential victims and witnesses to the greatest extent possible.

 Usually, the accused person will be either placed on administrative leave or, if possible, re-assigned to work duties that remove them from interacting with potential victims and witnesses. Because Councilmember Watson cannot be placed on administrative leave, the City Council adopted special protocols through which he may interact with City staff to continue performing all of his duties as an elected official while having restricted contact with potential victims and witnesses.

At this time, no finding has been made as to whether a violation of the City’s policy has occurred, and we are committed to due process throughout this investigation. Although this involves an elected official, it is a confidential personnel matter and the privacy of the potential victims and witnesses must be protected.

 The City is unable to disclose the nature of the potential violations, the names of the potential victims and witnesses, or the special protocol applicable to Councilmember Watson. Investigations, by design, are conducted independently and develop based on each witness’s information; therefore, they do not have a specified timeline.

The City will seek to balance the public’s interest in knowing the conduct of its elected officials against the privacy rights of the affected employees. Once the investigation is completed, the City will determine what, if any, additional information can be disclosed to the public.

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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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