Investigation sparks controversy at city
Lack of institutional control, personal vendettas and questionable conduct are all alleged in a report released in October by the city of Newberg.
On Oct. 22, the city made public a full report on an investigation into allegations made by human resources director Anna Lee. In the report – conducted by Heather Martin and the Portland law firm Beery, Elsner & Hammond – some of Lee's allegations are sustained while others are either disputed or rendered indeterminable.
Lee alleges that Newberg-Dundee Police Chief Brian Casey and Capt. Jeff Kosmicki engaged in harassing behavior toward her by filing a false police report and creating a hostile work environment, among other actions. She also expressed concern over an alleged break-in at the human resources office in July 2017.
Casey and Kosmicki, according to the report, contend that Lee tried to frame them for the alleged break-in, which they claim wasn't a break-in at all. Their attorney, Sam Thenell, is alleging a conspiracy by the city and its insurance company to oust the captain and chief along with IT director David Brooks – all three of whom are represented by Thenell and have contentious histories with Lee and the human resources department, according to the report.
The various squabbles date back to previous allegations made against Casey and are tied into a recent racial discrimination suit against the city.
Martin and the law firm's report illustrates questionable behavior by city officials like Lee and Brooks, along with flat-out apathy from former city manager Joe Hannan. It also points to multiple instances of misconduct by Kosmicki – working in concert with Casey – that it says violate city policy.
A history of disdain
In 2016, Brooks was outspoken in his opposition to hiring Lee for the position of HR director, citing her interview and her alleged history of not getting along with the police chief in Sherwood. Brooks is a reserve officer for the Newberg-Dundee Police Department in addition to his duties as IT director.
A few years later, in 2018, Casey and Lee filed reports against each other surrounding the alleged break-in. Lee claimed the police department wasn't acting properly in the investigation, while Casey claimed he and other officers were being framed for the break-in. It was – in the view of investigators – an extension of Casey's issues with the city that precede Lee's hiring.
"In 2015, Casey was put on paid administrative leave by then City Manager Jacque Betz during an investigation into several allegations, none of which were sustained," the report said. "While the details of that 2015 investigation will not be discussed here, this event appears to be a catalyst for animosity between Casey and city management generally."
Entangled in the allegations put forth by Kosmicki against Lee is city attorney Truman Stone. Kosmicki reported to Oregon State Police that Lee and Stone should be investigated for "initiating a false police report" and "altering a public documents/records and the attempted framing of a public official (Chief Casey)." He also told OSP that Lee and Stone should be investigated for working together to commit the crimes he alleged. OSP chose not to investigate these claims.
Kosmicki's actions, the report said, were a divergence from Casey's supposed directive in this case – to focus on the issue of the break-in. The investigation found that Kosmicki chose instead to focus on Lee and Stone's conduct, which is the basis upon which Lee is alleging harassment.
The ensuing back-and-forth is muddled in multiple instances of "he said, she said," and it underscores the contentious relationship between city officials and NDPD officers. The investigation report examined the validity of Lee's claims and outlined the various instances of alleged misconduct by Kosmicki.
The investigation found that Kosmicki's report to the state police was "more likely than not" intended to harass Lee and Stone. It cited the city's harassment policy and the history between the two sides as evidence, but left it up to interpretation whether harassment actually took place.
"Kosmicki's actions in not solely reporting the break-in/broken lock and the file modification and instead asking OSP to investigate Lee (and Stone) for a false police report and file modification after at least one agency (DOJ) had passed and indicated they did not believe there was enough to investigate, could be seen as harassing because the ongoing issues have obviously caused disruptions for Lee who feels targeted as a result …," the report said. "It is not entirely clear whether the city's policy applies solely to harassment based on a protected class. If it does not and is broader, then the sustained allegation … would be a violation of this policy."
If the city's definition of harassment is broad enough to include Kosmicki's behavior, it could be grounds for his immediate termination per city policy.
Kosmicki was found in the report to have violated General Rule 4, which states that "employees must fulfill their responsibilities to the City of Newberg. No willful action, which detracts from the quality or quantity of work, service, safety and health or public image will be acceptable."
Kosmicki, the report said, also committed an offense in his behavior toward Lee that could be grounds for disciplinary action: "Interfering with the work of others, their ability to complete work assignments, or in the performance of their assigned duties."
Recommendations regarding Kosmicki's fate, along with many other decisions in this matter, are now up to interim city manager David Clyne – or potentially his successor.
Taking legal recourse
Thenell said he believes the city is going after his clients for what he described as "blowing the whistle" on the Greg Patton situation, which resulted in Patton winning a lawsuit against the city for racial discrimination in its hiring practices. The position was a human resources assistant, which went to Lee's cohort Jennifer Ortiz instead of Patton, who is African-American and claimed racial bias in the case. Ortiz has resigned her position at the city in the interim.
Thenell spoke on behalf of his three clients for this story and outlined what he believed to be a concerted effort by the city to frame Casey, Kosmicki and Brooks for crimes while getting them removed from their positions. He claimed that the city's insurance carrier, Salem-based Citycounty Insurance Services, is working with the city of Newberg to violate his clients' rights under state, federal and constitutional law, and that the investigation was not done in good faith."I believe the city of Newberg used their insurance carrier to drum up an investigation to cover their tracks and to get rid of the chief, the captain and Dave Brooks," Thenell said. "They did this because my clients are the ones that blew the whistle that led to Greg Patton's verdict against the city."
While Casey initially told Patton about the job he applied for that resulted in the discrimination suit, it's unclear what role he, Kosmicki and Brooks had in "blowing the whistle" on this issue. Brooks alleged that Lee tampered with human resources documents to cover her tracks for not hiring Patton, which played a part in that court case, but his contribution doesn't likely meet the legal definition of a whistleblower. Kosmicki didn't appear to be involved in the Patton matter at all.
Still, Thenell said he plans to take legal action on behalf of Brooks. He chose not to comment on the next steps legally for Casey and Kosmicki.
"I am going to file a lawsuit against the city, against Anna Lee, against Truman Stone, against Citycounty Insurance and against the attorney for Citycounty Insurance for whistleblower violations, First Amendment violations and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress involving Dave Brooks," he said. "I hope to have that filed by the end of the year."
Cleaning up the mess
The Newberg City Council adopted a resolution at its most recent meeting accepting the findings of Martin's report. In a prepared statement, Mayor Rick Rogers said the public release of the full, lightly redacted report was an effort by the city to be transparent.
"The council takes harassment claims extremely seriously and are committed to due process for every employee," Rogers said. "This due process includes thoroughly investigating claims of harassment. ... We thank the public for their patience while we completed the Investigation."
Now, with the report released and the findings accepted unanimously by the council, Clyne is tasked with deciding what to do next. The council directed him to take appropriate action regarding the personnel issues that arose during the investigation.
Clyne could also delay any action and pass it on to the next city manager. He is working on an interim basis and is expected to be replaced with a full-time manager in early 2020. While it is unlikely the city council will be satisfied with a new city manager taking on this responsibility, especially after Clyne was around for the investigation's conclusion, it is possible.
The city's patience may be wearing thing, however. Hannan, who left his post as city manager in late summer, is not characterized in glowing terms in the report. In fact, his refusal to take any action on personnel issues has – in the view of investigators – allowed them to fester.
"It should be noted that numerous witnesses (in addition to Lee) expressed that Hannan typically does not take action on human resource/personnel matters," the report said.
Stone said in the report that, when it comes to "really anything having to do with employee, improper employee actions or misconduct (Hannan is) kind of a 'bury his head in the sand' kind of person.'"
Hannan told investigators he never disciplined someone in his three years working for the city. When issues between Casey and Lee sprouted up, he attempted to bring a mediator but was unsuccessful. He later conducted his own investigation, which went nowhere. When Casey needed something, he typically went around Hannan and straight to the city council – a move the report characterized as unsurprising given Hannan's apathy, but also a sign that Casey "does not believe the city's rules, processes, or procedures apply to him and presumably to anyone within the police department."
Clyne, who characterized the investigation report as "concerning," must now decide what to do with Casey, Kosmicki, Brooks and Lee, if anything. City officials engaged in behavior that may have created a hostile work environment and personal vendettas bled into myriad issues – legal and extralegal – over the past few years. All of it was laid out in the report, which Clyne will now examine before he takes the next steps – be they discipline, termination or otherwise.
Rogers praised Clyne and looked ahead to the future with an optimistic view, despite the controversy.
"We have confidence in David's abilities to manage this situation in the interim and are determined to find a permanent city manager with similar skills to bring about a long-term shift in the culture of the operations through a greater emphasis on teamwork and cooperation," Rogers said. "I will reiterate our commitment to the public for transparency and restoring the confidence of the public in the city."
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