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HR report: Former Pekin interim city manager created a 'fear-inducing atmosphere' for employees

Joe Deacon

Former Pekin interim city manager Bruce Marston frequently lost his temper and created a "very uncomfortable, fear-inducing atmosphere" for his employees.

Those are the allegations the city's human resources department substantiated against him in a recent redacted investigation memo obtained by WCBU through the Freedom of Information Act.

The HR memo said the department received two complaints from different employees about an incident that happened around noon on May 2. Marston asked an employee about a retroactive $9,000 payout processed with the last payroll for a firefighter who earned a diploma in 2021, and why it took two years to learn about it.

The report said an employee explained the procedures "in a very calm low voice," but said Marston became "visibly upset and raised his voice," blaming an employee for not following procedures around payroll change forms discussed in the past.

Another employee overheard this and tried to offer more information, but Marston talked over them, the report said. That employee said Marston was "visibly unhappy" and everyone else in the room was "sheepish," "as people would be when the boss is mad." Another employee reported she felt trapped in the office.

Marston confirmed the basic outline of events to human resources, but denied he raised his voice or that he was angry or frustrated. He told HR he was "firm, direct, and resolute because procedures weren't being followed." But the report said Marston asked a city employee later on the day of the incident if he had "lost his shit," and noted the city council had been informed about what happened.

Witnesses said the behavior is "potentially a trend" for Marston, with a previous investigation three years ago, and "a number of" other incidents that weren't reported or investigated.

"The presence of a trend is a matter of greater concern than the existence of just one isolated incident on 5/2/23 because it can potentially create a toxic culture that impacts employee’s morale, creates loss of productivity and can result in unnecessary turnover costs," the report concludes. "Furthermore, the fact that this trend of harassing behavior comes from an employee sitting in the (City) Manager position implies an even greater concern and need for commensurate corrective action."

The Pekin City Council removed Marston from the interim city manager's role last week, but allowed him to remain as the city's finance director. Police chief John Dossey was appointed as the new interim city manager on Monday night.

The city hasn't had a full-time city manager since October of last year, when the council fired Mark Rothert.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.