City report describes former city manager’s behavior as ‘abrasive,’ ‘bullying’ prior to resignation

By Sean C. Morgan

Lebanon Local

*This story has been updated Oct. 16, 2019

An investigator found allegations by city employees of “disrespectful and abrasive conduct” and “bullying and retaliation” by former City Manager Gary Marks to be substantiated, according to an investigation report released Monday, Oct. 14.

The 80-page investigation report, dated Aug. 7., led the Lebanon City Council to place Marks on administrative leave on Aug. 15. The city manager resigned following a closed executive session on Aug. 29 at the request of the City Council. Marks had been city manager since 2014.

The city initially denied public records requests by media organizations, but following an appeal by KEZI to the Linn County District Attorney, the city released the two-part investigation report.

“I used this experience as a soul-searching opportunity to reaffirm my values, acknowledge the need to temper passions in these sensitive times, and I am moving forward with a new vision to accomplish more good works,” Marks told Lebanon Local Wednesday morning. “I hold dear my many Lebanon friends and will always feel grateful that I was able to serve such a wonderful community.”

The city hired Amy S. Ahrendt of Attorney-Conducted Workplace Investigations to conduct an independent investigation of five allegations by former Human Resources Director Lori O’Mara of “discrimination, retaliation and unprofessional conduct” by Marks. The investigator said she used a “preponderance of evidence” standard in reaching conclusions.

Names of employees and witnesses have been redacted from the report, with the exception of Marks and O’Mara.

The city initiated the investigation after a witness reported an incident between O’Mara and Marks to City Councilor Rebecca Grizzle, who advised the witness to talk to Council President Jason Bolen. O’Mara emailed Bolen a report describing three alleged incidents between her and Marks.

On July 22, she submitted a resignation letter to the council reiterating the claims and resigning effective Aug. 1.

Among the incidents, she claimed that Marks started “screaming” at her when he found her door locked prior to employment interviews and that he was visibly upset, with an angry look on his face and was so angry he was almost shaking, according to the report.

Marks denied the claim, saying his voice was calm and his communication was not outside the norm for any fast-paced environment, according to the report.

In two other incidents, O’Mara claimed Marks demonstrated unprofessional conduct, describing a “confrontational and argumentative approach” and gruff, abrasive, aggressive, demeaning and demanding tones during a discussion about whether the city was required to comply with the Oregon Veterans’ Preference law and another discussion about whether the city should post information about benefits on its website.

Marks told the investigator that there was no altercation or argument and no raised voices, according to the report. He denied his voice was gruff, and regarding the website, it was merely a discussion of something he found a “curiosity, nothing more.”

O’Mara alleged that Marks bullied and retaliated against her for having confronted him about his unprofessional conduct by placing her on administrative leave.

He told the investigator that he could see she was “having some trouble,” the report said. He told her she should go home, and he would be in touch with her.

The investigator found that a claim of gender discrimination was unsubstantiated.

The report includes interviews with some 15 total employees and witnesses, including Marks and O’Mara. Eleven of them described a history of unprofessional conduct centering around reactivity and abrasiveness, according to the report. Among comments, the witnesses described Marks as very reactive, with “pretty frequent incidents of outbursts,” goes from “zero to sixty in no time” and “throws temper tantrums.”

“I cannot in good conscience continue working for an organization that allows this type of behavior, nor can I professionally look a blind eye to this treatment when it happens again to someone else,” O’Mara said in her resignation letter.