WATERTOWN — The city has started taking steps to oust Cliff G. Olney III from the zombie task force following an investigation into a sexual harassment complaint against him.

Mr. Olney, who is running for mayor as a write-in candidate, said he received a letter over the weekend from the city indicating that the city plans to remove him from the task force.

Last month, city officials began investigating a complaint by a female city employee who accused Mr. Olney of directing some inappropriate comments at her during a May 29 ztask force meeting.

City Manager Rick Finn declined to comment, citing confidentiality of the employee who filed the complaint.

However, Mr. Olney posted the July 25 letter from Mr. Finn about the city manager’s findings on his Facebook post and released it to the Watertown Daily Times.

In the letter, Mr. Finn concluded that several others at the May 29 meeting heard Mr. Olney make “the inappropriate comment of a sexual nature,” and that it violates the city’s sexual harassment policy.

The complaint stems from Mr. Olney allegedly telling the female employee that she should wear a maid’s outfit while going out to look for so-called zombie homes in the city, Mr. Olney said last month.

“Based on my findings, I am taking steps to have you permanently removed from the zombie task force effective immediately,” Mr. Finn wrote.

In response, Mr. Olney wants to know more about why the city is removing him from the zombie task force, accusing the city of trying to damage his reputation.

“We’re going to address this and get some answers,” Mr. Olney said.

He denied making the comment and plans to do his own investigation about the accusation against him.

“I’m not going to let this go,” he said. “This is all trumped up.”

The meeting was attended by a number of city employees and members of the zombie task force, Mr. Olney said. One task force member told him that she didn’t hear him make the comment.

Mr. Olney, who finished fourth in a mayoral primary last week, plans to file a Freedom of Information request to obtain any emails between City Manager Rick Finn and his department heads that might contain information about the allegation.

Earlier this month, Mr. Olney, who came in fourth in the June 25 mayoral primary, accused the city of conducting “a smear campaign” against him “to silence” him and get him off the zombie task force.

He’s been a thorn in the city’s side for several years while running for City Council twice in the past four years and as a mayoral candidate during the recent primary campaign.

Mr. Olney also has been critical of the work of the zombie task force, contending it’s not getting the job done to find abandoned properties and getting them occupied again.

Olney said he had considered resigning from the task force because it had been so ineffective.

The task force was formed as a requirement of a $150,000 state grant to help deal with the city’s ongoing problems with so-called “zombie properties,” homes that have become abandoned but not yet began foreclosure proceedings.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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