Mayor Horwitz Investigated for Workplace Harassment

Council Votes That Actions Do Not Justify Removal From Office

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Mayor Horwitz Investigated for Workplace Harassment

A photo of Mayor Horwitz, who assumed office in January 2018.

A photo of Mayor Horwitz, who assumed office in January 2018.

Prerna Mukherjee via Bcomber.org Archives

A photo of Mayor Horwitz, who assumed office in January 2018.

Prerna Mukherjee via Bcomber.org Archives

Prerna Mukherjee via Bcomber.org Archives

A photo of Mayor Horwitz, who assumed office in January 2018.

Beachwood City Council held a public meeting with special counsel on Oct. 30 to discuss an investigation into allegations of workplace harassment by Mayor Martin Horwitz.

After a dramatic airing of findings and criticism from residents who believed the investigation was politically motivated, council voted that the mayor’s actions did not rise to the level of removal from office, accepted his apologies and pledged to follow through on remedies. Additionally, some council members emphasized a need for a more robust human resources department.  

On Aug. 22, the city hired Carole Rendon from the law firm BakerHostetler to serve as special counsel and investigate the matter at a cost of up to $30,000.

The allegations were presented orally on Oct. 4 in a closed-door executive session during which the mayor was not present.

Council President Brian Linick opened the Oct. 30 meeting by explaining objectives for the evening.

“It’s not a hearing, not a trial,” he said. 

“This was information reported to city council, not something city council ‘went out seeking,’” he said.

City council received a copy of the report during the meeting. It had not been previously available to council members, the mayor or employees of the city.

Now Rendon and her colleague Carrie Valdez would publicly read the report. The entire transcript of the report can be found on the Cleveland Jewish News website.

“[The] allegations were reported by city employees [and] the city undertook an independent investigation,” Rendon read.

Baker attorneys interviewed 11 current and former city employees, male and female, across different departments. 

“[Seven of those interviewed were] either subjected to, witnessed or received a report of inappropriate behavior by the mayor,” Rendon read.

The mayor was also interviewed.

Horwitz admitted he could have made some of the statements reported to the investigators, but they were intended as jokes. 

“[He] admitted he had an odd sense of humor and that he uses his sense of humor as a defense mechanism when he is anxious or nervous,” according to the report.

In Spring of 2018, Horwitz attended a citywide mandatory sexual harassment training.

“[Horwitz] claimed that nobody ever approached him or told him that anything he had said or done was inappropriate or made others uncomfortable,” according to the report.

This was contradicted by several witnesses.

[The] allegations were reported by city employees [and] the city undertook an independent investigation.”

— Special Counsel Carole Rendon

The allegations were split into three categories: substantiated, highly credible and unsubstantiated. 

Substantiated claims were those the mayor admitted to, or those that multiple witnesses acknowledged having heard.

Highly credible claims were those in which witnesses took notes shortly after the incidents or reported them promptly to another city employee.

According to Rendon, many of the incidents violated the city’s expectations for appropriate workplace conduct.

Substantiated incidents included a rude comment the mayor allegedly made to a pregnant woman. 

“Wow, you’ve really let yourself go,” he allegedly said.

This was later rebutted by the mayor’s lawyer Dale Markowitz, who said the mayor was speaking to a person sitting in someone else’s chair, and that it was meant as a joke. 

“When discussing whether his personal computer would be a matter of public record, Horwitz allegedly asked ‘whether the pornography on his computer was a public record that could be searched,’” according to the report.

Horwitz admitted it was possible he could have said something ironically along those lines. 

“Anyone who knows [me], knows that [I am] a dull person who does not drink, do drugs or watch pornography,” he told the investigator.

“Horwitz allegedly told a city employee that his wife was going out of town and that he was excited for the next four days of ‘hookers and heroin,’” according to the report.

Horwitz claimed that he was only kidding.

“A guy [my] age would only last a short period of time before needing medication,” he told investigators.

City residents at the council meeting laughed at this.

Horwitz allegedly commented on an employee’s new look. 

“What is this look? I like this look,” he allegedly said. 

Many in the audience shook their heads, skeptical that this would be grounds for sexual harassment.

In another incident, Horwitz attended Mayor’s Court with a friend and commented that he needed to “ensure that the matter was appropriately resolved.” 

Horwitz explained that he was just showing off and was not trying to influence the outcome of the case.

Anyone who knows [me], knows that [I am] a dull person who does not drink, do drugs or watch pornography.”

— Mayor Martin Horwitz

This was one of many comments the mayor described as a joke.

“Horwitz allegedly often said that ‘I haven’t fired anyone yet today, but maybe I will, you never know,’” according to the report.

The mayor told investigators that if he said this, it was meant as a joke. 

“During a city event with several people in attendance, Mayor Horwitz appeared to be peering down at someone with a chest tattoo that was partially showing,” according to the report.

He was asked why he was looking down in that way. 

“I’m just trying to see how far down that tattoo goes,” the mayor is alleged to have responded.

This statement was reported to investigators by multiple witnesses. Mayor Horwitz denied the allegation. 

“That would be a red line with me,” he told investigators.

Highly credible allegations included a joke Horwitz allegedly made about two female political candidates. 

“This is the first time I’ve been between two women before,” he allegedly said. “…And even though this is a complete fantasy of mine, I don’t know who to back.” 

Horwitz denied it but then said to the investigator, “It’s a good line. I wish I had thought of it.”

In another incident, an employee asked Horwitz about a promotion.

“You are like a virgin to this office,” he allegedly said. “I know you’re not a virgin, or maybe you are, or maybe that’s none of my business.” 

Horwitz denied this incident. The employee documented it with contemporaneous notes.

In another incident, Horwitz allegedly told an employee that she would be fired if she ever had children. 

Again Horwitz denied this incident. The employee documented it with contemporaneous notes.

“During a committee meeting where two female city council members disagreed on a matter, Horwitz allegedly leaned to the person next to him and said something about a cat fight and then made an orgasm sound,” Rendon read. 

Again Horwitz denied this incident. A witness documented it with contemporaneous notes.

In another incident, Horwitz discussed his new supervisory responsibilities.  

“Now that I’m supervising you, does that mean I can take you home like chattel?” he is alleged to have said. 

 An employee immediately reported the incident to a colleague. 

Mayor Horwitz denied the allegation.

“I don’t think I’d even say that to be funny,” he told investigators.

Horwitz allegedly told a city employee that she reminded him of his wife.

“[Except] you’re taller, thinner and prettier than she is,” he allegedly said.

Horwitz denied the allegation. 

After the embryo breach at University Hospital, Mayor Horwitz and a city employee allegedly discussed how to handle inquiries from concerned citizens. 

“This gets into the abortion discussion because of how embryos are fertilized,” he allegedly said. “But we don’t need to get into a sex discussion right now unless you want to.” 

Horwitz denied the allegation. 

We did not include in our report any statement that we found to not be credible, and so, although we could not corroborate [some incidents] based on the context and the information from the witness, we believed that they were sufficiently corroborated [and] credible, that you should be permitted to hear them and consider them.”

— Special Counsel Carole Rendon

Allegations that could not be corroborated included an incident in which a typo was discovered after the mayor signed a correspondence. It was brought back for him to resign.

“I should punish you,” the mayor allegedly said. 

“The person who reported this allegation perceived the mayor’s tone as sexual,” according to the report.

In another incident, Mayor Horwitz allegedly asked whether an employee whether they were going to buy him lunch now that they had been promoted. The employee responded that they would not take him to lunch because the mayor probably made more money than the employee. 

“You sound like a Jew,” Horwitz allegedly responded.

“Horwitz allegedly bragged to someone about being the mayor who ‘hired the first colored firefighter’ in Beachwood.”

During a meeting, a female city employee made a suggestion.

 “Wow, you’re not only good looking. You’re actually smart, too,” the mayor allegedly responded. “You should come and work in the mayor’s office with me.” 

In another incident, the mayor was on scene at a significant house fire. An individual allegedly told him that they were lucky the fire was during the day or they would have been pulling bodies out of the house. 

“That’s only if you could find them,” the mayor allegedly responded. 

The individual asked the mayor what he meant by that.

 “You know, they’re black,” the mayor allegedly said, referring to the people who lived at the house. “When they burn up, they’re really hard to find in fires.”

A city employee showed Mayor Horwitz pictures from a family vacation with their adult children. 

“Did you see the way those kids were dressed?,” the mayor allegedly asked. “They were going there to do Vegas, not to see [it].”

“He allegedly often asked at least one employee how old they were when they planned to retire and told them it was time to retire,” according to the report.

 Horwitz denied this. 

“He acknowledged he may have asked employees who’d been retired and rehired how much longer they planned on working,” the report added.

Many of the comments at issue were made over a year ago… and had I known of individuals concerned at the time, I would have worked immediately to resolve them. I commit that I will take every step I can to remedy any harm and prevent any issues moving forward.”

— Mayor Martin Horwitz

“Why is it appropriate for us to hear the uncorroborated items that you’ve listed?” asked a council member after the report was presented.

“We did not include in our report any statement that we found to not be credible, and so, although we could not corroborate them based on the context and the information from the witness, we believed that they were sufficiently corroborated [and] credible, that you should be permitted to hear them and consider them,” Rendon said.

“Were you aware of any prior settlements with the city [and the mayor] that related to conduct similar to what’s described [here]?” Linick asked. 

“Yes, there was a prior settlement that we were made aware of during the course of our investigation,” Rendon said. “But it was a matter that had been resolved, and in that context was resolved by a confidential settlement so we did not include that in the purview of our investigation, but we are aware that that happened.”

She was most likely referring to an incident that Linick described in a later email to The Beachcomber.

“[The city spent at least $50,000 in a settlement] last year as a result of a similar inappropriate comment made by the mayor,” Linick wrote.

Rendon and her colleague departed after reading the report.

Next the mayor made his way down to the podium in the audience to give his statement.

He took deep breaths into the microphone before he began.

“The greatest honor I have ever received in my 24 years of public service has been to serve as the mayor of Beachwood,” he said. “I am proud of the strong, productive relationships I have built with city directors and employees, and grateful for their trust.”

“Several weeks ago I learned about multiple comments that I am alleged to have made,” he continued. “In a handful of instances I admit the comments at issue…In some other instances, I may have made comments close to what was alleged, but do not specifically remember… The remaining comments I categorically deny.”

“To the city employees who found my words offensive in any way, I am deeply sorry… I take full responsibility,” the mayor said. “With this apology, and my firm commitment to change and to be hypersensitive, for the good of this community, I hope council will bring this matter to a close this evening.”

“Many of the comments at issue were made over a year ago… and had I known of individuals concerned at the time, I would have worked immediately to resolve them,” he continued. “I commit that I will take every step I can to remedy any harm and prevent any issues moving forward.”

“This includes: this public apology, personal outreach to affected individuals, and participating in executive-level training on workplace communication which will include harassment and hostile workplace education,” he concluded

A very long applause followed his statement.

The case law in Ohio tells us that an elected official should not be removed unless you do so by giving them due process.”

— Horwitz's Attorney Dale Markowitz

Horwitz’s lawyer, Dale Markowitz, was next to speak. 

“My advice [in situations like this] is always let’s get it resolved and move on,” Markowitz said.

“I think it’s important everyone understands something about the process here,” he said. “Council has very little ability to do [anything] about these kinds of incidents when you’re dealing with a public official.”

“If you want to get rid of someone who’s been elected, you’re defeating the will of the people,” he added.

“At the end of 2018 the voters of the city amended the charter to add a provision that if that elected official were to violate their oath of office, they could be removed,” he said. 

“The case law in Ohio tells us that an elected official should not be removed unless you do so by giving them due process… that means they’re entitled to a hearing…” he said. “They have an opportunity to have those people come before [them]…  to testify as to what happened… if you decide to remove someone, you’re going to have a hearing [where all of that] will occur.”

“If this thing is going to keep going, there will be more money spent on all sides,” he added.

Markowitz went on to talk about the complex legal wrangling that would occur if the council were to take this matter to a hearing.

“To move forward, it takes a majority of council, [which is] ⅔ of council,” he said. “Again, you’re defeating the will of the people who put somebody in office, and that is not taken lightly.”

“With one exception, [the allegations] were brought to my attention last Friday after we thought that the investigation was completed,” he said

“What was left out [of the report], was the mayor denied every one of those, and vehemently denied the one about the fire incident. You know the saying, there are lies and there are damn lies? Well, that falls into the category of a damn lie.” 

Behind him the mayor nodded. 

“[The mayor] is not capable of saying anything like that. I am offended that was presented to you tonight,” Markowitz said.

“[All of this] ends up getting aired in public, which is something I think should have been taken into greater account before we got here tonight, and I think that the fact that people sat here tonight and had to hear this is unusual, unfair and really something that … we ought to find a better way of dealing with these kinds of situations,” he added.

This elicited a shout of approval and applause from the audience.

“Your charter was amended in [the end of] 2018 by the voters, probably some day in December,” Markowitz said. “Your charter doesn’t say the effective date of amendments, [so the date it was signed] would be the first time that you could start considering removal of an elected official for [terms of the charter], and in doing so you can’t take into account things that happened before that amendment to the charter occured [which includes many of these allegations].” 

Markowitz questions why the allegations surfaced at this time.

“If these allegations occured last year, why wasn’t that ever brought to the attention of somebody?” he asked. “Why did they all of a sudden show up last Friday after this investigation was done? How credible is this?”

Markowitz concluded by presenting letters of support for the mayor signed by numerous public officials. 

Kenneth Fisher, who was acting as city council’s attorney, offered additional explanation.

“Under the law, ‘No public body shall hold a (closed door) executive session with the discipline of an elected official for conduct related to the performance of the elected official’s official duties or for the elected official’s removal from office.’ There was no choice [of if this meeting had to be public] and I want to make that very clear,” he said.

The meeting then opened up for public comments. All the comments were pro-Horwitz and many pointed fingers at council, saying they were actually the ones in the wrong.

All this fishing expedition into the past was only done for the purpose of vindictiveness. I would question an employee who thought it was appropriate to listen to a remark and then take notes and then do nothing.”

— Beachwood Resident Carol Stein

Carol Stein spoke first. 

“I find what the council did to be either an utter dereliction of duty or a self-serving action,” she said.

This comment was followed by applause and shouts of approval. 

“All this fishing expedition into the past was only done for the purpose of vindictiveness,” she added. “I would question an employee who thought it was appropriate to listen to a remark and then take notes and then do nothing.” 

“If you are truly offended by something as an employee, then for God’s sakes tell the people who can do something about it,” she continued. “But no, this employee proceeds to document and document and document. That’s an agenda. As voters, we now know who’s responsible for this… We will be at the polls on Tuesday, and with luck, one of you will be gone, and personally, for me, that’s you Brian Linick.”

In fact, Linick was voted out of office on Nov. 5. When asked by Cleveland Jewish News if he thought the council meeting affected his votes, he said “no.”

“But for the rest of you I would say, we certainly should be looking at recall as an option,” Stein added.

Following that comment, Horwitz addressed the residents. 

“Please, I am asking you not [to] attack people,” he said. “It’s just not professional… Everybody here takes their job seriously.”

Paula Rollins, one of the mayor’s friends since childhood, attested to his character. “Working over 55 years in different capacities, with thousands and thousands of people, I have never heard one person ever complain about Martin Horwitz’s ‘quirky’ comments. He’s just the most ethical, moral, honest, hard working person that most people know.”

“[Beachwood’s] always made fun of,” Alan Berger said. “Let’s get this over with, and let’s get Marty back in his job.”

Andrew Hoffman echoed Markowitz’s comments about the will of the voters. 

“It is the voting residents of Beachwood who should ultimately make the determination of what, if anything, happens in this case,” he said. “If there’s any move to remove that power of the voters by this council, that would be a grave mistake, but [if you do it] I would hope that you would vote to do it in advance of this election so that the voters can be heard and respond.”

I wish those individuals were as concerned with the victims as they were with personal attacks against me and council. It was clear that their remarks were prepared prior to hearing the results of the investigation.”

— Council President Brian Linick

James Marcus questioned why the allegations were so recent. 

“All these allegations I’ve heard, I think I’ve lost count [of how many], nobody went to the law director, nobody went to the HR department?”

“This investigation appears to me to be almost a setup… to force him out so someone else can become mayor,” Finance Director Larry Heiser said. 

Heiser began to get choked up as he spoke about how nice it has been to work with the mayor. 

“He is the city of Beachwood,” he said.

Heiser went on to accuse a council member of “us[ing] the f-word freely” in council meetings. He added that it would be unfair to wait a year to say he is offended by the use of the f-word. 

Heiser also said a council member received a ticket on their car and allegedly took it to the law director and said “take care of it.”

Rabbi Joshua Skoff of Park Synagogue also spoke, but struck a different tone. He emphasized the importance of forgiveness in an unforgiving era.

“We always want mercy for ourselves, and we only cast out judgment to somebody else,” he said.

Had Horwitz been removed from office and Linick kept his seat on council, Linick, as council president, would have been next in line to be mayor. He responded that this was not the reason for the investigation.

“I feel obligated to say this, just because it has come up a number of times, I personally have no desire to be the mayor of Beachwood,” he said. “I have no plans to run for mayor ever in the future.”

In an email to The Beachcomber, Linick responded to those who attacked him. 

“I wish those individuals were as concerned with the victims as they were with personal attacks against me and council,” he wrote. “It was clear that their remarks were prepared prior to hearing the results of the investigation.” 

Next on the agenda was discussion among council. Council member Alec Isaacson immediately made a motion.

“I move that we acknowledge the mayor’s actions as we’ve heard tonight do not rise to the level of removal from office,” he said. This was met with cheers. “I move that we accept the mayor’s apologies and proposed actions to remedy the issues he has caused. I move that we require the mayor to show that he has followed through with his remedies, and I further move that we consider this matter closed.” 

Council member Justin Berns seconded the motion. 

“I do not condone the mayor’s behavior,” Berns said. “…That said, I don’t believe his actions rise to the level of removal from office.”

Council member June Taylor followed with a question to the mayor. 

“Mr. Mayor, when I first joined council, you were enrolled in a training class, and we are now talking about you doing additional training. What would be different this time?”

Horwitz responded saying he’s been working with the HR department, going through a more personalized training for executives through a company called Impact Solutions. 

While many people think that we have the departments and the support that [are found in other organizations], that doesn’t exist in the city. So maybe it explains also how we got to where we got to.”

— Council Member June Taylor

Council member Babara Bellin-Janowitz spoke next. 

“I’m not excusing Marty’s behavior; we’ve talked about it; I think it was inappropriate,” she said. “Having said that, do I think that his comments rise to the level that we should remove him from his elected position as mayor? Absolutely not.” 

“I believe [Marty’s] a man of integrity,” she added. “I also believe he’s truly remorseful and intends to take action. I think we need to bring this matter to a close, and we need to forgive him for the comments he made, and move forward.”

Council Vice President James Pasch spoke next. 

“The comments that he did admit to, that he did make, that offended city employees were not okay,” he said. “I too do not believe that his actions rise to the level of removal from office. I too will support the motion that has been brought forward.”

Eric Synenberg thanked everyone for coming, saying the process has been difficult for everyone on council. 

“I’m very pleased the mayor apologized tonight, and I believe his apology.”

“I also believe that the process the council followed, while not perfect, was one that we believed was legal and fair to all parties involved,” he said. “This was something that all seven of us agreed to. We didn’t know what the investigation would find, and we had a serious duty. It was not perfect, but it was fair.” 

Taylor added additional suggestions. 

“We don’t currently have a zero tolerance policy in the city of Beachwood,” she said. “And I think that’s something that we need to really look at and examine more closely… Internally, we don’t have a robust enough human resources department so that our employees feel empowered enough to report to a generalist, so that there is somewhere to go to, and that reporting structure can be there for our employees.”

“And I think that would support the sort of training that’s necessary,” she added. “The training that the Mayor’s talking about—we don’t have a training department here.”

“While many people think that we have the departments and the support that [are found in other organizations], that doesn’t exist in the city,” she continued. “So maybe it explains also how we got to where we got to.”

Silence followed the comment. 

I truly appreciate this vote of confidence. Thank you very much.”

— Mayor Martin Horwitz

“There is an HR department that was created last year,”  Linick explained in his email to The Beachcomber. “Despite request from council to fill the director position, the Mayor has not done so. The mayor is responsible for appointing all directors. This is not something that Council can do.” 

In a meeting on July 23, 2018, city council discussed starting an HR department. 

Linick suggested Beachwood is in particular is in need of a good HR department. “Proportional to the number of employees we have, the number of employee issues seems ridiculously high,” he said. “You could also look at if maybe there’s federal practices for how you handle sensitive situations.”

The mayor made it clear he did not believe the change was necessary. 

“You are permitted to create a department, my job would be to fill it and to staff it, and I am satisfied at the moment,” he said at the July 2018 meeting.

Linick, who was advocating strongly for the HR department, addressed Horwitz directly. 

“Prior to this role, you worked for yourself, you didn’t have that exposure to all the benefits and protections that [having an HR person at the table] provides,” Linick said.

“From our experience, this works a lot better,” he added. “And I get that you don’t value that, or see that, but I think it’s also important to understand that is some of the experience we bring. It’s not just arbitrary that we’re saying we think we should just move people around because maybe it’ll upset you because that’s not what you came up with.”

After hearing the report from special counsel, hearing from residents and discussing, city council decided it was too difficult to continue the discussion without identifying names, and moved to bring the meeting into executive session.

After Taylor’s comment, the council adopted Isaacson’s motion, and it was met by cheers. 

The mayor thanked council and said he appreciates that they followed the process. 

“I truly appreciate this vote of confidence,” he said. “Thank you very much.”

Mayor Horwitz and Beachwood Law Director Diane Calta did not respond to requests for comment.

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