WATERTOWN — City Council members heard about a pattern of inappropriate behavior by City Manager Rick Finn when he worked at his previous jobs before they appointed him 16 months ago.
At the time of his appointment in July 2018, controversy erupted over the selection. Council members decided to hire him anyway.
They were insistent that they looked into what happened at his previous jobs and were satisfied at what they found out.
They continue to defend that Mr. Finn was properly vetted, contending that he was exonerated.
Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero remembered receiving a letter from elected officials who supported him.
“We talked to a lot of people and some were in favor of him,” she said.
But now there are allegations made about his conduct in his $122,210-a-year job at City Hall.
A female department head has filed a formal complaint against Mr. Finn, accusing him of creating a hostile work environment. Before coming to Watertown, Mr. Finn was city manager at numerous locations, including Sandusky, Ohio; Sun Prairie, Wis.; Takoma Park, Md.; and Peekskill, N.Y. Most recently, he worked as the city manager in Bay City until he left in June 2017.
At the time, the Watertown Daily Times spoke to elected officials who served with him, his former employees and residents from the communities where he previously worked.
The Times reported what was learned.
“I talked at length about that back then,” Mr. Finn said on Friday, declining to discuss issues with his previous employment.
At his Bay City, Mich., economic development director Patti Stowell unexpectedly retired in June 2015 after 17 years of service.
She wrote in her retirement letter that Mr. Finn was “belligerent, disrespectful and unprofessional” during a meeting with two coworkers and another meeting with a consultant, according to a story in the Bay City Times in June 2015. She described her experience under Mr. Finn as a “hostile work environment.”
When he talked to The Times in 2018 about Ms. Stowell, Mr. Finn said there were some “personnel issues” with the Bay City economic development director.
Also, while he was in Bay City, the city’s public works director accused Mr. Finn of attempting to manipulate data in a city study.
The public works director, William Bohlen, accused Mr. Finn of trying to fudge data on a study that recommended rates for how much residents paid for garbage collection.
The Bay City Commission ended up determining it was a misunderstanding and found no fault between the two city officials.
Back in 2018, Mr. Finn provided the minutes that showed the Bay City Commission approved a resolution that didn’t blame anyone for the misunderstanding.
“In both cases, the accusations were found not correct or totally false,” he said then.
Mr. Finn’s contract was not renewed and he left Bay City in June 2017, the last place he worked until he was hired as city manager here.
During a two-year tenure in Peekskill from 2009 to 2011, Mr. Finn and other city officials were criticized by an area activist for not taking accusations of racism seriously.
The accusation involved an employee training session on customer service in which department heads were asked whether they would talk to groups of white people and African-Americans differently.
That activist, Darrell Davis, of the Peekskill Committee for Justice, complained that the comments were offensive. Mr. Finn had denied the accusations.
Prior to his appointment here, he provided a packet of information in his resume that included a one-page document offering an explanation of what happened during the incident.
“At the request of the City Council, the city attorney investigated the allegations and determined that the allegations were false,” he wrote, adding that the city attorney’s report and findings were posted as part of the public record in the city’s official minutes.
In an April 18, 2002, article in The Washington Post, Mr. Finn came under fire for how he dealt with a Takoma, Md., resident whose house was going to be demolished to make way for a fire department parking lot.
The article told a story of how Nevella Malloy and her neighbors would not leave their homes, despite the plans to tear them down.
Ms. Malloy told a Washington Post reporter that Mr. Finn, then the Takoma Park City administrator, threatened her by saying that if she didn’t leave, he’d seek to have her children taken from her.
In 2018, Mr. Finn said he didn’t remember the issue or the Washington Post story.
During the past 25 years, Mr. Finn has held positions in four cities, for as little as about two years in Peekskill, five years in Sandusky, six years in Takoma and three years and three months in Bay City.
Newspaper articles from the communities in which he worked pointed to problems of management style that drove high-ranking city employees to leave their posts.
Many of those employees complained of mistreatment and being retaliated against by him.
In Takoma, those allegations were extensively researched before his hiring there and some officials said that tough management style was an asset when he was leaving.
He resigned to pursue a doctorate, his packet of information indicated.
He reportedly, at times, had a strained relationship with council in Peekskill, but Mr. Finn reportedly left of his own accord, according to the Peekskill Patch.
In some instances, elected officials expressed that Mr. Finn overstayed his welcome. But Mr. Finn insisted in 2018 that he left his jobs on his own, except for one position.
As for the accusations about his former employees, Mr. Finn said in 2018 that he believes it’s important to hold public employees “accountable.” Sometimes as city manager, employees can become “disgruntled” if they are not happy with the way they were treated. But making sure that he got results was just being “a good manager,” he said.
And now his management style is at issue once again as the city will soon open an independent investigation into a formal complaint by a woman who heads one of his departments.
The Times has not confirmed the identity of the employee.