Former Grantsville Recorder Rachel Wright says she’s used to gruff characters. After all, she served in the Air Force for more than a dozen years and deployed as far as Kyrgyzstan.
Still, nothing prepared her to work for the city’s mayor, Brent Marshall, whose physical and verbal aggression and workplace harassment she says ultimately led her to leave her job.
The final incident occurred in 2012, when the mayor called her into his office after they’d had a dispute over his handling of a contract negotiation. From across the hall, she said other employees could hear him screaming at her.
She got up to leave.
“He grabbed my shoulders and he pushed me and made me sit down,” she recalled. “He pushed me into one of the chairs and told me that I wasn’t leaving.”
Two weeks later, she left the city.
“It really shook me up,” Wright said. “I had just come back from deployment and so I was having a hard time from that and then when I came back, I had to deal with a whole bunch of stuff with [Marshall]. So it really… it set me into a pretty good depression.”
Five other individuals who have had political dealings with the mayor told The Salt Lake Tribune that he runs the city of nearly 11,000 people in Tooele County in a bullying manner, sometimes using physical aggression to intimidate those who disagree with him.
Two have worked with him in their capacity as elected officials. Two worked for him as city employees. Two others were residents trying to get an initiative pushed through.
None filed a formal complaint at the time of the incidents. Now, they hope that speaking out will improve the mayor’s behavior.
Marshall addressed these allegations in a written statement sent through City Attorney Brett Coombs on Thursday and declined the invitation to comment more specifically.
“I am sorry for any miscommunication in the past that may have caused hurt feelings,” he said in the statement. “I have never intentionally belittled anyone and my door is always open for civil and respectful dialogue. At times as Mayor, conflict may occur but I will always work to serve and protect the citizens and community of Grantsville City.”
Crossing a line
As society grapples with workplace misconduct in light of the #MeToo movement, Marshall’s behavior raises key questions: what behavior is appropriate in the workplace and what crosses a line? And how should elected officials conduct themselves?
To be illegal, behavior needs to be based on sex, race, gender, disability or some other protected category, according to April Hollingsworth, an employment attorney at Hollingsworth Law Office in Salt Lake City.
“When it’s just verbal harassment or even physical harassment that’s, you know, something less than sexual assault, you have to kind of look at all the circumstances and that’s kind of where you get into gray area as far as whether or not it would be actionable,” she said.
Although she noted some bullying may not be illegal, Hollingsworth said those experiences can still be “detrimental.”
“It really affects productivity and morale,” she said. “There’s been all these studies about how hostile workplaces, whether or not they’re illegal, lead to a lot of people taking time off and a lot of turnover and things employers really should be taking into consideration.”
‘Get your hands off’
In 2015, Grantsville resident Susan Johnsen was part of a nonprofit group fighting the city on its proposal to turn part of the J. Reuben Clark Historic Farm into a cemetery. One night after a council meeting, she entered a conference room with Marshall to ask him a question.
During the conversation, Marshall, perhaps to emphasize a point, draped his arms across her shoulders, with his elbows pointing down into her shoulder blades and his hands pointing straight up.
That’s when her husband, Eric, walked into the room. “Mayor, get your hands off my wife!” he said.
Debbie Spilman, a Grantsville resident who was not involved with the historic farm dispute, was there that night and confirmed the incident occurred — though she perceived it differently.
“I do remember her husband making a joke about, you know, ‘Take your hands off my wife,’” she remembered. “I heard a tone in his voice, but he also kind of said it in a joking manner. I could tell he wasn’t real happy that the mayor had touched her, but I don’t recall anything being to the level where I would have said, ‘Oh, my God, give me a break.’”
But Johnsen was rattled and said after that she avoided speaking with the mayor one-on-one and only when she absolutely needed to.
“His manner is intimidating,” Johnsen said. “Whether that’s meant to be on purpose or through ignorance I can’t tell. He talks loud, he stands too close, he yells in your face on top of you when you’re trying to make a point … it’s just, you know, that kind of boorish behavior.”
Laurie Hurst, who worked with Johnsen and Friends of Clark Historic Farm, recounted a similar experience with Marshall during that time. Johnsen confirmed she witnessed that event.
Neither woman filed a formal complaint. They said they didn’t know where to go other than to City Council members — some of whom they said were supportive and others who blew it off — and were concerned about how raising allegations would affect progress with the Clark Historic Farm.
“We’ve kind of been complicit in this because we have allowed him to get away with [this behavior],” Johnsen said. “We haven’t lodged a formal complaint and we haven’t spoken out loud about it.”
But after Marshall’s narrow re-election to a third term last November and amidst a steady movement of women coming forward in industries across the country with sexual and workplace harassment allegations, Johnsen had a change of heart.
“We didn’t expect him to be re-elected, and when he was and when a couple of the other council members were re-elected — which was very discouraging — I thought, ‘OK, this is what we get for not speaking out,’” she said.
Now, Johnsen said she hopes to see Marshall removed from office, though she thinks that’s unrealistic. At the least, she hopes he will be censured.
A joke gone wrong?
Shauna Kertamus, former Grantsville zoning and planning administrator, said she left her job in 2014 in part because of Marshall’s intimidation tactics and aggressive behavior. She had wanted to work there at least another decade. But when Marshall was re-elected, she felt she couldn’t make it even four more years under his leadership.
“I loved my job,” she said. “I felt I was good at it. I worked hard at it. And to be demeaned by him... he absolutely had no respect for me or my position in the city. It was absolutely nothing to him.”
Once, Kertamus said Marshall called her into his office to listen on speaker phone to a resident using “foul language” and “personal attacks” to complain about her work on a zoning issue.
“So part way through, I got up to just leave,” she recalled. “He grabbed me to stop me from leaving and released my arm and pointed to the chair.”
She interpreted this as an intimidation tactic to keep her from leaving the room.
Another time, Kertamus said Marshall handcuffed her in zip ties as a joke and made her walk across the building from her office to his. But she didn’t think it was funny.
“It was frightening; it was like, ‘Brent, please take these off,’” she said. “I had to parade through the whole building with these things on my wrists and follow him over into his office for him to remove them.”
On a day-to-day basis, Kertamus said Marshall was demeaning, overly critical and looked down on her because of her gender.
“When President Trump was [elected to] office, I said to my husband, ‘That is just like having a Brent Marshall win president of the United States,’” she said.
Marshall’s use of physical aggression as an intimidation tactic hasn’t been limited only to women. At a city Christmas party in 2014, Councilman Neil Critchlow said Marshall walked up to him, grabbed him by the shoulders and came close to his face over a disagreement regarding the appointment of a judge.
“I told him to keep his hands off me and [that] he wasn’t to do that,” Critchlow said.
Critchlow conceded that he and the mayor have had their political differences in the past. But he said he’s speaking out now because he’s seen Marshall treat others that way, too.
“It is a pattern,” he said. “He will intimidate people to believe in what he wants them to believe.”
Critchlow said he wants to see Marshall make amends for his past actions and change his conduct in the future.
“I want to see him apologize to people for his actions, you know?” Critchlow said. “That’s the minimum I’d like to see out of this and a change of his attitude toward the people in Grantsville. Because you know, we elect him to be mayor for the whole people. Not just for the people that vote for him or try to get him back in office.”
Shawn Milne, a Tooele County commissioner, characterized Marshall as having “a very aggressive personality” and also said he wishes the mayor would improve his treatment of those who disagree with him — as Milne said he often has.
“Sometimes his aggression, his sure-he’s-right perception is not the most healthy in interfacing with other public entities, with other leaders of the community,” he said. “It can sometimes have the opposite effect of what I want a mayor in my community to be portraying to people he’s trying to serve.”
Milne said he’s experienced times where Marshall has disregarded “the personal space of the average person.”
Milne and Critchlow both said they’ve spoken with Marshall about his conduct. They found the conversation unproductive.