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Report reveals concerning behavior from former Watertown city manager

Payne Horning

Watertown leaders are ready to make an offer to one of the candidates who interviewed for the city manager position, a development that comes shortly after the city released a report which sheds more light into why Watertown's former city manager resigned earlier this year.

The report details the investigation that took place in 2019 after a city employee alleged former city manager Rick Finn created a hostile work environment. The investigation, which was run by an outside firm, determined that six of the seven incidents involving Finn that were raised in the complaint did not violate city policy. However, the report also said that the employee's allegation of a hostile work environment appeared to have merit.

"Throughout the consolidation process, her [the employee's] suggestions were ignored and even met with outright frustration and overt hostility," the report concluded. 

Additionally, the report found Finn may have made racially insensitive remarks and displayed offensive and intimidating conduct toward female employees. And thanks to a secret recording of one staff meeting, it was revealed that Finn provided investigators with a 'falsification' that 'called his credibility into question' and led the firm to determine that Finn was 'not fully honest or forthcoming' in the investigation. 

Watertown Mayor Jeff Smith said while the Watertown City Council found these allegations troubling, they did not rise to the level of a hostile work environment.

"When you look at their [the Society for Human Resources Management] definition of a hostile work environment, it’s got to be severe, pervasive, and persistent," Smith said. "There are clearly actions of Mr. Finn that are unacceptable, that should not be tolerated in any workplace environment, but they didn’t meet that definition."

Finn left before any action could be taken, resigning the day the council met to discuss the report.

Prior to hiring Finn, the previous city council learned that he had resigned from several other city manager positions amid complaints about his management style that had been described by some as bullying and intimidating. Smith was not mayor when Finn was ultimately hired in 2018, but he had considered Finn for the same job when he was on the Watertown City Council about 10-12 years earlier.

"The council I was on rejected that application," He said. 

While Smith won't speak for the council, he said during this latest search for a new city manager he considered patterns of troubling behaviors in any of the candidates' job histories to be disqualifying.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.