Watson stripped of council duties, refuses demands to resign

Women lined up to turn their backs on Watson as he spoke. KLH | Union

ARCATA – In an extraordinary special meeting Tuesday night, the Arcata City Council moved to strip City Councilmember Brett Watson of as much responsibility as it could and limit his access to city staff and facilities. The meeting laid bare the contempt in which Watson is held by his council colleagues and other local leaders, by city staff and members of the public.  

In a series of motions, all of which passed 3 – 1 with Watson dissenting, the council voted to obtain a restraining order against him; to allow contact with staff only during council meetings, not discuss any personal matters with them or touch them; to strip him of his liaison assignments; and to halt his access to keyed staff areas of City Hall. The council also directed staff to look at how a recall election could be pursued.

But the council stopped short of scheduling a censure hearing, on grounds that it would only give Watson another platform to double down on the deflections, and that the symbolic measure wouldn’t punish him in any way.

The four-person council during the well-attended meeting: Councilmember Meredith Matthews, Vice Mayor Sarah Schaefer, Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar and Councilmember Brett Watson. KLH | Union

Charge, countercharge

Watson is alleged to have sexually harassed a city employee on a persistent basis using his power over her job, as concluded by a private investigator and detailed in a recently released report. 

Watson spent a substantial portion of the meeting denying the allegations, pointing out what he said were problems with the investigator’s report, which he considers biased and invalid, and blaming his alleged victim for encouraging their relationship. 

Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn and Lt. Bart Silvers stood by throughout the meeting KLH | Union

As he spoke, a line of women stood with their backs turned to Watson at the rear of the assembly.

He says the charges against him have been contrived as a way to neutralize his stringent oversight of city business and scrutiny of staff actions. He also maintains that he is being denied “reasonable accommodation” by staff over his cognitive disorder and emotional issues that make it hard for him to process city business.    

Public comment

Among the many citizens who addressed the council in person and remotely, none supported Watson. Virtually all demanded his resignation and expressed support for any actions the council could take to enforce its zero tolerance policy against harassment.

But Watson was adamant that he would not do so, stating that there was “zero chance” that he would resign.

Watson’s often combative statements throughout the meeting drew head shakes, groans, jeers, digital gestures and calls that he “resign!” Police Chief Brian Ahearn and another officer stood by in the City Hall lobby, with a clear view of Council Chamber.   

In an unprecedented move, a collection of city department heads and other staffmembers submitted letters in support of council action against Watson, reading them to the council. 

Developing… more details and documents to come…

Watson sat alone at the dais during a break in the meeting. KLH | Union