Judge sees cover-up and bad faith by city in handling of Finn report

Watertown City Manager Rick Finn
Watertown City Manager Rick Finn(WWNY)
Updated: Oct. 30, 2020 at 10:28 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The city of Watertown’s handling of the controversial Finn report “raises concerns of a cover up” and “bad faith,” according to a decision from state Supreme Court Justice James McClusky released Friday.

City officials said Saturday they disagree.

McClusky ruled on what names in the report can be “redacted” - or blacked out - and whether the city has to pay the lawyer fees for WWNY.

7 News sued the city for the report, after repeatedly being denied a copy of it. The report was an investigation into the conduct of former city manager Rick Finn.

After Judge McClusky decisively ruled against the city, a heavily blacked out version of the report was released. It concluded Finn behaved in “intimidating and offensive” ways to female city employees.

In Friday’s ruling, Judge McClusky notes “The fact that the then City Manager and the City agreed to separate their relationship coupled with the City’s refusal to release the Report raises concerns of a cover up.”

“The city’s inconsistent grounds for not disclosing the Report further points to a bad faith purpose” in denying the 7 News request for the report, the judge wrote.

The city’s lawyers have made a variety of arguments for why the report should stay secret, ranging from the fact that city employees who talked with the report’s authors were told their interviews would remain confidential, to the city council’s decision that Finn did not create a hostile work environment, which contradicts the report.

In Friday’s ruling, Judge McClusky decided the city will have to pay WWNY’s legal fees - he’ll determine the exact amount. The judge also ordered some of the blacked out passages, the ones naming the mayor and the city’s Human Resources Manager, be restored.

Watertown mayor Jeff Smith said Saturday that the city acted properly, and should not have to pay WWNY’s lawyers fees.

As WWNY requested the report, the city got an opinion from the state Committee on Open Government, which advises local governments on freedom of information issues.

The committee said the city did not have to release the report, and the city argues that because of the committee’s opinion, the city was acting properly in fighting WWNY in court.

Judge McClusky, in his decision, said the city did not give the Committee on Open Government all the information it should have disclosed, like the conclusions of the report.

Smith disagreed.

“The fact is, we shared what the council had found," Smith said. “The report is not the end all, be all. It’s the council’s decision.”

“The complaint (about Finn) was a hostile work environment. There’s a specific definition to a hostile work environment. Nobody is disagreeing that Mr. Finn did things that were not appropriate, but did it create a hostile work environment? And the answer is no.”

Smith said it will be up to the city council to decide whether to continue the appeal of paying WWNY’s lawyer fees.

Smith also said Finn had been rejected for the job of Watertown city manager when council replaced former city manager Mary Corriveau in 2012.

“I was on city council and his resume was there. We looked into it, and we passed on it.”

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