City manager candidate settled sexual harassment case in Iowa

Paul Eckert, the veteran city administrator expected to be approved by the Hollister City Council Nov. 4 as the new city manager, was the defendant in a sexual harassment lawsuit settled by the city of Sioux City, Iowa in 2015 for $300,000.

Eckert, current city manager of Gridley, Calif., population 6,600, resigned as manager of the 82,500 population Iowa city less than a month after the lawsuit was filed by a female city employee July 2013. He had been city manager of Sioux City for 11 years, and assistant city manager for 5 years before that.

Eckert’s name was listed on the agenda for the Nov. 4 Hollister City Council meeting. Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said last week that the council had reached a consensus on its final candidate for city manager, the top administrative position for this city of 39,000. The annual salary is expected to be in the $180,000 range.

In May 2019 Eckert withdrew as a candidate for city manager of Roseburg, Ore., after being selected for the position by the City Council. The Roseburg News Review reported that the city offered no explanation for the surprise withdrawal of Eckert from consideration. Roseburg is a city of about 22,000.

Eckert has held the top administrative position in Gridley since 2016, and was city manager of Mount Shasta, Calif., population 3,200, from 2013 to 2018, according to his LinkedIn biography.

He was finance director in Morgan Hill from 1995 to 1997 and held prior administrative positions in three other California cities—Paradise, Foster City and Santa Paula.

Eckert will replace William Avera, who announced his retirement, effective Nov. 15, in February 2019, after less than six years on the job. Avera has been with the city since 1994.

Eckert holds a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Cal State East Bay. He is a Marine Corps veteran.

In Sioux City, Brittany Scott, an administrative assistant in the city public works department, alleged she experienced retaliation for previous complaints that Eckert had sexually harassed her for four years, beginning in 2000. She said the city had failed to follow its own policies about harassment and retaliation.

She said in her lawsuit that she endured roughly four years of unprofessional emails and unwelcome attempts by Eckert to get her to go out on dates and have an affair with him.

The Sioux City Journal reported that the harassment ended after two city council members investigating a separate sexual harassment allegation against Eckert questioned her.

Scott alleges that after that conversation Eckert arranged for her transfer to another department, a demotion and reduction of her position to part time, a move that cost Scott her health insurance and other benefits, the Journal reported.

“(Eckert) is vindictive, retaliatory and a master manipulator who covers up his misconduct very effectively,” Scott said in a complaint filed in January with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, before filing the federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Sioux City.

Eckert denied all of the allegations. 

“These retaliation charges are baseless, and we will resist them vigorously,” he told the newspaper at the time. 

The July 2015 settlement in U.S. District Court “resolved all of Scott’s claims and pays for her damages, attorney fees and emotional distress,” said city officials at the time.

The city settled the lawsuit in 2015 for $300,000. The Sioux City Journal reported the city’s legal fees for the lawsuit cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

In his LinkedIn profile, Hollister’s final city manager candidate described himself as an “entrepreneurial leader of large and small cities with populations of 85,000 to 5,000.”

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