Gardner to Watertown lawmakers: Finn ‘did wrong. Do they find this behavior acceptable?’

Updated: Oct. 19, 2020 at 11:08 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Now that the secret report detailing an investigation into former Watertown City Manager Rick Finn has been released to the public, the department head who filed the complaints against him is speaking out.

Erin Gardner, the now-suspended Parks and Recreation superintendent, brought hostile work environment claims against Finn.

Members of city council say they believe Finn did not create a hostile work environment, yet the report reads differently. Now, Gardner is calling on city council to admit that what Finn did to some female employees was wrong.

“The mayor and council have yet to come forward and say he was wrong. He did wrong. Do they find this behavior acceptable? Would they find it acceptable in an urgent care? Would they find it acceptable in a real estate office? Would they find it acceptable in a grocery store? Would they find it acceptable in a security office? Would they find it acceptable in a state Senator’s office? My guess is probably not,” she said.

Gardner is talking about the newly released, 33-page report investigating Finn, who resigned in January.

“This council’s action under my leadership is we dealt with this swiftly. I didn’t hire Mr. Finn, I just dealt with the fallout,” said Watertown Mayor Jeff Smith.

Smith said Monday that the city stands behind its initial decision that Finn’s behavior did not meet the federal standard of creating a hostile work environment.

“I have no comment to Ms. Gardner. I don’t feel I owe Ms. Gardner anything. We follow the standard of what the definition of a hostile work environment is,” said Smith.

After an independent consulting firm interviewed Gardner, Finn, and other city workers, it concluded that some of Gardner’s claims do have merit, even though 6 out of 7 specific claims against Finn were found to have not violated city policy.

The report found that Finn’s conduct toward female staff was 'intimidating and offensive" and his behavior violated the city’s non-discrimination and harassment policies.

The investigation also concluded that Finn was not fully honest or forthcoming in his responses to the investigator.

“I’ve been doing human resources professionally for a long time. A hostile work environment is a severe, pervasive and persistent behavior and it was the opinion of the city council across the board, 5 out of 5, that that environment did not exist. There were obviously some sensitivity issues that were brought forth in this report, and to Ms. Gardner’s point, those absolutely would have been addressed. I don’t think anybody would have swept those things under the rug. You can’t. They were inappropriate,” said Jesse Roshia, city council member.

“I don’t know. Maybe someday I will run for elected office because this is wrong and this is 2020. Nobody should stand for this behavior. We need to start moving in the right direction,” said Gardner.

So why was the report kept secret? Smith says it was out of respect for the privacy of city employees who participated in the investigation.

We reached out to Finn, who chose not to comment.

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