In July 7 2018, in the midst of a secretive search for a new Geneva City Manager, Geneva Believer reported that City Council’s favorite candidate for the job, Rick Finn, had faced numerous accusations, by colleagues in several cities, of bullying, harassment, retaliation, discrimination and threats threats, along with ethical violations including the manipulation of official study data.
Six days later, Finn was hired as the new city manager in Watertown, NY, and the people of Geneva avoided the grim prospect of Finn moving into an office at City Hall, bringing with him a lengthy history of allegations of belligerence, misconduct and misogyny. Rick Finn was Watertown’s problem now.
Then, in November 2019, Watertown officials confirmed that Rick Finn was under investigation after a formal complaint by a female city department head who accused Finn of creating a hostile work environment. The complaint reportedly cited more than a half-dozen incidents and multiple witnesses. One Watertown councilor reported hearing about at least two other female employees who had similar problems with Finn but did not file official complaints.
Finn had only been on the job for 16 months when the investigation was announced.
The City of Watertown is paying an independent company $165 an hour to conduct the investigation.
The Debacle That Was The 2018 Geneva City Manager Search
If you haven’t already seen it, you can read the original 12-part series on the 2018 Geneva City manager search by clicking here. It’s a remarkable and unsettling story of how a process lacking in transparency nearly resulted in disaster.
In December 2017, embattled City Manager Matt Horn announced that he would resign effective January 12 2018. Horn’s tenure was marked by many improvements in the city, but his propensity for finding himself in shady situations and for repeatedly making unethical decisions permanently damaged his legacy. Horn’s handling of the Geneva Foundry disaster was a horror show, from the first moment when he announced the contamination by denying any responsibility for the failure to notify residents of the contamination for over 20 years and offering no City support for Foundry residents, until he eventually told a bald-faced lie to explain why residents had been endangered, poisoned and kept in the dark for decades.
After announcing the beginning of the search for a new city manager in January, City Council secretly selected a search committee and then made a surprise announcement in April announcing that the committee had already been formed. The committee was 70% men and included Matt Horn.
City Council claimed that the search process would be identical to the previous city manager search process in 2009, but it was actually less transparent.
In June and July, Geneva Believer broke the news that the search had been narrowed to three candidates: former Bay City, MI city manager Rick Finn, former Oneonta city manager Martin Murphy, and acting city manager Sage Gerling. Finn was reported to be the front runner, followed by Murphy, with Gerling in third place.
Murphy was hired and, a few days later, “fired” from a city manager job in Florida, leaving Finn and Gerling vying for the Geneva position.
Finn was hired in Watertown under a cloud of controversy after the Geneva Believer article detailing Finn’s checkered work history went viral in the northern NYS city.
Gerling was hired and began serving as the new Geneva City Manager on August 1, 2018.
A few weeks later, Geneva Believer reported additional inside details of the search process, revealing that a contingent of councilors vehemently opposed hiring Gerling and pressured the other councilors to select Rick Finn.
The Watertown investigation into the hostile work environment complaint against Finn was scheduled to be completed at the end of December.
But on January 6th, the Watertown City Attorney stated that he had not yet received the final report from the consulting company.
It’s unknown at this time when the report will be available.
Back in 2018, the people of Geneva, including the multiple sources who provided information to Geneva Believer from inside the city manager search, stepped up and told City Council to do the right thing and stay far away from Rick Finn. City Council listened, and Sage Gerling was appointed. And for that, you all deserve thanks.