Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall once zip tied the hands of the city’s zoning and planning administrator. He put his arms on a resident during a conversation in his office. He raised his voice at the city’s recorder after they’d had a dispute over his handling of a contract negotiation.
The women involved in these incidents viewed them as evidence of aggressive and intimidating behavior — and the two city employees told The Salt Lake Tribune they’d left their jobs because of it. But Marshall, in acknowledging the actions to city investigators, suggested they were innocent reflections of his outsized personality.
The zip tie incident was “all in fun” and Shauna Kertamus “wanted it done,” he said. He wasn’t trying to be “offensive” to Susan Johnsen, a resident who was trying to push through an initiative. He just put his hands on her because he’s a “touchy person.” And he’d raised his voice at Recorder Rachel Reid Wright only after she yelled at him.
The mayor’s comments are part of a 16-page investigative report commissioned by the Grantsville City Council in the wake of a number of accusations first reported last year by The Salt Lake Tribune. A heavily redacted version of the year-old document was turned over to the newspaper Thursday only after ordered to do so by the State Records Committee. Grantsville had unsuccessfully argued the entire report was protected by attorney-client privilege.
In many of the 24 interviews, mostly unnamed witnesses paint a picture of Marshall as an occasional “bully" who often “raise[s] his voice at others” and “puts everyone on edge.” Several said they had seen him engage in workplace conduct they felt was inappropriate, and one said Marshall had treated him personally in a “demeaning” and “abusive” manner on numerous occasions.
Others said they found his behavior harmless, noting that the mayor’s tendencies to violate personal space and use a loud voice are just part of his personality. One person described him as an “acquired taste."
“What we’ve discovered all along is [people say], ‘Oh, that’s just the way he is,’” said Johnsen, who believes that’s just an effort to excuse his behavior. “Well, OK, I mean, maybe that’s true. But at the same time you can learn to be different in a professional setting.”
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 when she went to the mayor’s office to ask a question. During the conversation, she said Marshall draped his arms across her shoulders, with his elbows pointing down into her shoulder blades and his hands pointing straight up. She was rattled by the interaction and has avoided speaking with the mayor one on one ever since.
Marshall, who has served as mayor since 2010 and won re-election in 2017 by 37 votes out of 1,867 cast, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
But after several people recounted seeing him yell at or put his hands on people, he told investigators that was “only a way of making an acknowledgment with the person" and said he has a loud voice because he “worked in an industrial plant for 36 years” and learned how to make his voice carry.
The allegations against Grantsville’s mayor surfaced during the peak of the #MeToo movement, a social media hashtag that demonstrated the scope and frequency of people’s experience with sexual assault, harassment and abuse. Johnsen, Kertamus and Wright were three of six people who’d had political dealings with the mayor and told The 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.
None had filed a formal complaint at the time of the incidents, but they said they hoped speaking out would improve the mayor’s behavior.
“In hindsight, had I known absolutely nothing would be done, I probably wouldn’t have said anything,” Kertamus told The Tribune on Thursday. “Because what good does it do? But at the same time, maybe it will help others feel like they can speak up. I hope some good comes out of it somehow, someday.”
Kertamus, the city’s former zoning and planning administrator, said she left her job in 2014 in part because of Marshall’s intimidation tactics and aggressive behavior. In addition to the zip tie incident, she said Marshall was demeaning, overly critical and looked down on her because of her gender.
In the aftermath of The Tribune’s story, the City Council authorized an investigation into the allegations in February 2018 and hired Spencer Phillips, an outside investigator and workplace attorney, to conduct it.
The report was completed the next month, on March 26. The Tribune fought for months for access to the investigative report but its requests were denied by Grantsville, which held that the report was protected under attorney-client privilege.
Earlier this month, the State Records Committee took up The Tribune’s appeal and sided with the newspaper’s argument that the public interest in the investigation outweighed privacy interests. It unanimously ordered the city to release the report with limited redactions.
The final 2½ pages of the report, which detail allegations and the investigator’s conclusions, were completely blacked out. All the names but those that had already been publicly identified in The Tribune’s story were also censured to preserve confidentiality.
The city said Friday it could not immediately provide the cost of its outside attorney fees for the investigation or for fighting disclosure of the records without a formal records request. Grantsville hired Kirton McConkie, a Salt Lake City-based law firm, to argue its case at the State Records Committee.
One of the people publicly identified in the document was Councilman Neil Critchlow, who said Marshall had forcefully placed his arms or hands on his shoulders, yelled at him on numerous occasions and told him how he was supposed to vote. The other was Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne, who told investigators he’s seen the mayor “put his hands on other ladies’ shoulders” and said Marshall often assumes a “folksy, small town” persona to excuse his behavior.
A witness whose name was redacted from the report stated “that Mayor Marshall simply does not respect others and that he repeatedly engages in behavior that blatantly demonstrates his lack of respect.” The person “believes that if any other City employee engaged in the same behaviors as Mayor Marshall, that employee would be terminated from employment.”
Because the investigator’s report redacts the conclusions, it’s difficult to tell whether he concluded Marshall’s behavior violated the employee code of conduct or was grounds for disciplinary action. The City Council appears to have taken no public action on the matter, and Marshall seems to have made no apology for his actions.
Councilwoman Krista Sparks said the council had received a verbal summary of the report in closed session and was “relieved” to find there was no criminal activity or legal wrongdoing. She said the council took the allegations “very seriously.”
“We feel like we’re all held to a higher standard as elected officials and we all come from different backgrounds and upbringings and sometimes our interpersonal skills can be taken the wrong way at times,” she said, speaking on behalf of the council. “All of us have our human nature. I think that the mayor at times has been misinterpreted or his intentions may be taken the wrong way.”
Sparks said the council has taken steps to update its employee handbook, ensure there are ways for workers to file complaints and has conducted trainings in the wake of the accusations. She declined to give specifics but also said the council has had “conversations with the mayor” that he’s been “very agreeable to.”
It’s unclear how much more the council could do, even if it wanted to. State law allows for removing a municipal officer who is found guilty of “oppression, malconduct, misfeasance, or malfeasance in office,” a class A misdemeanor.
But Johnsen and Kertamus said they’re not lobbying for his removal from office.
“It would have been healing for him to have at least admitted that, yeah, there were some inappropriate things about his behavior; he could have made more of a public apology,” Johnsen said. “Basically his apology was, ‘I didn’t mean to do it. People took it up wrong’ ... which isn’t really an apology.”