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Apologizes to harassment accuser, public after four-month leave of absence

After a four-month leave of absence triggered by allegations of harassment, City Councilor Bob Martin returned to City Hall Monday for a work session.

Martin read a prepared statement in the opening moments of the meeting, addressing the accusations publicly for the first time since his leave of absence began in February. Martin

"I want to thank all of you who have reached out in support," Martin said. "In some ways this has been the hardest four months of my life and your kind words were greatly appreciated. I want to express my thanks to the City and council for the way this matter was handled. Every accusation of harassment must be taken seriously and fully investigated. The city hired the best investigator in the area and her 27 years of experience were valuable in getting to the facts in this matter."

Mayor Russ Axelrod also read a statement at the Monday work session.

"The professional, independent investigation found no criminal violations or evidence of sexual harassment," Axelrod said. "However, the reports identified some interactions between Councilor Martin and the complainants that reflect poor judgement. As representatives of the City of West Linn, council members should be held to high standards of behavior, and so (we) are developing code of conduct principles for future guidance.

"The council regrets these circumstances, which have impacted many individuals. The council also recognizes Councilor Martin's sincere interest in fulfilling his commitment to the city and completing the remainder of his term."

The saga dates back to a Feb. 5 City Council work session, when resident and West Linn Committee for Citizen Involvement member Emily Smith publicly accused Martin of sexual harassment. Another resident, Alice Richmond, accused Martin of "abusive and intimidating behavior" a week after Smith leveled her accusation.

The City hired attorney Jill Goldsmith of Workplace Solutions Northwest to perform independent investigations of both cases. Goldsmith announced her findings on the Smith case in late March, writing in a report that while Martin did admit to making flirtatious comments to Smith, the full context of the comments was important and Martin's actions did not create a "pervasive" environment of sexual harassment. Goldsmith also found that Martin neither had nor attempted to use any sort of power as an elected official to coerce Smith.

With council approval, Martin extended his leave of absence through May 31 to allow for Goldsmith to complete her investigation of the Richmond case. In a May 18 report, Goldsmith said that Richmond's claims of harassment were unsubstantiated.

In his statement Monday, Martin said the results of the investigations did not mean he was free of blame.

"We ask councilors to fulfill several roles: legislator, judge, visionary and role model," Martin said. "I feel that I have let you down in the figurehead role by displaying poor judgement in some behavior. My intention was to befriend and mentor a person who seemed to genuinely need a friend, but I acted without sufficient regard for perception, and for that I apologize."

He also apologized to Smith, who was not in attendance.

"I cannot control how others interpret my willingness to listen to them or befriend them, but when those efforts were being misunderstood, I should have been sensitive enough to realize it," he said. "I would like to apologize to Emily Smith for my failure to recognize her discomfort."

Martin also weighed in on the council's ongoing efforts to craft a new code of conduct for elected officials, suggesting that "mandatory private mediation" be the first step after an allegation has been made.

"This allows the accuser to be educated on what does and does not constitute harassment," Martin said. "It allows the person being accused to become aware that the behavior is problematic and that, in itself, may be sufficient to stop the problem. Settling problems in this manner prevents escalation and may encourage those being harassed to come forward more readily. It also prevents people from using accusations as a political tool to remove an incumbent."

Finally, he reflected on the broader movements for equality and empowerment that have spread across the world in recent months.

"Our culture is in the midst of an awakening to the subtle biases and unfair roles that we have inherited," he said. "The difficulty we face in adjusting to this higher standard is part of this transition. As a child of the South, I watched a similar transition with regard to racism 65 years ago. No one thought it was possible, but it happened. I believe that it can happen again if we work together in good faith.

"Creating a procedure that accounts for both the accused and the accuser would be a good first step."

In an interview with the Tidings, Martin said he was pleased with what the council was able to accomplish in his absence — particularly ushering the passing of a general obligation (GO) bond — and that he wasn't concerned with playing catch-up.

"I've tried to follow meetings as well as I could," he said. "I think I'm up to speed. I don't generally speak a lot anyway — I tend to let others have the floor and try to correct them if things are going in the wrong direction. We've got lots of people who like to talk."

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