Friday, May 13, 2022

Arcata Council to Consider Restraining Order, Censure of Watson

Posted By on Fri, May 13, 2022 at 4:01 PM

click to enlarge Brett Watson - COURTESY OF THE CITY OF ARCATA
  • Courtesy of the city of Arcata
  • Brett Watson
The Arcata City Council has scheduled a special May 17 meeting to discuss possible courses of actions, including a recommendation that the city obtain a workplace violence restraining order, after an outside investigation found Councilmember Brett Watson sexually harassed a city employee.

Other options include a public censure, removing Watson from his council assignments and restricting his interaction with staff to council meetings, while also limiting his access to city hall by recalling his key and removing his security code from key code pads.

The recently released 28-page report by Danville-based law firm Kramer Workplace Investigations, which was hired by the city late last year, found “a preponderance of evidence” sustained allegations that Watson engaged in "unprofessional and inappropriate conduct," and "abuse of his power as a city councilmember."

For more on the findings, read this week’s North Coast Journal story “Undisputed” here.

In a recent statement to the Journal, Watson wrote that he has "never harassed anyone" in his life, "worked tirelessly for the residents of Arcata" and tried to make himself available for an interview but was "never contacted by the investigator."

"I'll likely make further comment after I've been able to completely review the report and additional documents," he wrote in the email. "I'm grateful to the public for their continued support over the last several months."

As an elected official, which the city noted when the investigation was launched, Watson can not be fired, reassigned or placed on administrative leave, as might be done in a similar situation involving an employee.

The potential courses of action were outlined by an employment attorney assigned to the city by its risk insurance pool in the wake of the findings.

According to the staff report, the employment counsel’s office notified Watson of the report’s findings on April 26 and “additional allegations of inappropriate conduct” against him by additional staff members, including sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment,” and that the city was “duty bound” to take actions to protect staff members from “the complained of behavior and to ensure that such conduct does not repeat itself.”

At that time, the staff report states, Watson was advised that the city “requested that he immediately cease certain activities,” including contact with any staff member outside of council meetings.

He was also asked to acknowledge “receipt of investigation findings” and agree to the city’s restrictions but has declined to do either, the staff report states.

“Based on the sustained allegations in the investigation report and Watson’s choice not to acquiesce to the restricted activities, employment counsel would recommend that the City Council seek a restraining order,” the staff report states.

The employment counsel estimated the process to obtain a temporary restraining order would cost between $7,500 and $15,000 “to prepare and argue” but that “numerous circumstances,” including any opposition by Watson and whether he continues to serve on the council, could affect the cost of seeking a permanent order, with the total estimated between $40,000 to $80,000.

The city already paid $15,000 to Kramer Workplace Investigations.

According to the staff report, Watson has informed the city that he retained a new attorney but neither of them has indicated that Watson would like to now participate in the investigation, an offer extended to him by the employment counsel, which would prompt a revised report.

Watson was not interviewed during the initial investigation, according to the Kramer report, despite repeated unsuccessful scheduling attempts with a succession of three attorneys who each represented him briefly over the course of two months.

The staff report outlines each of the possible actions and the process for how to proceed, depending on the direction given by the city council at the May 17 meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m., will be open to the public (including via Zoom) and broadcast on Access Humboldt, the city's YouTube page and the city website.
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Kimberly Wear

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

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