A fourth female city department head has left, citing the “negative and intimidating” behavior of City Administrator Mike Martin, who was accused of gender and age discrimination in a lawsuit filed late last month.
Sirke Salminen, the city’s finance director, announced her resignation on Monday, Aug. 29, according to a resignation letter obtained by The Bellingham Herald on Thursday, Sept. 1.
“Due to the negative and intimidating behavior employed by the City Administrator, Mike Martin, I am forced to resign my position,” Salminen wrote.
The letter goes on to say that Martin often would dismiss Salminen’s expertise regarding the city’s finances, that he failed to allow her to do the duties outlined in her job description, and that he repeatedly shunned and excluded her.
I have enjoyed my job and the other people within the organization, but when the City Administrator decides to make a work environment poisonous and nothing is done to stop him, I am left with no choice but to resign.
Sirke Salminen, Lynden’s finance director
“As you know, this is not an all-inclusive list,” she wrote.
Salminen’s letter adds that Martin’s behavior was detrimental to her health, and that she had become concerned for her personal safety. She wrote that she had regularly informed city officials about Martin’s behavior, but nothing was done.
“I am extremely disappointed in the lack of responsibility shown by the City,” Salminen wrote. “I have enjoyed my job and the other people within the organization, but when the City Administrator decides to make a work environment poisonous and nothing is done to stop him, I am left with no choice but to resign.”
Mayor Scott Korthuis said Friday he had no comment about the letter.
Salminen has worked at the city since Nov. 3, 2014, said Vanessa Roebuck, human resources manager. Her salary there is $95,481 a year, Roebuck said. Her last day with the city will be Sept. 15, Salminen wrote in the letter.
Ferndale spokesman Riley Sweeney said in an email Wednesday that Salminen had been offered a position as that city’s finance director, and would start on Sept. 19 pending City Council approval on Tuesday. Her salary there would be $100,000, Sweeney said.
There, she would replace Mark Peterson, who retired Aug. 1 after 12 years in the position.
Reached by phone Thursday, Salminen did not give further details about Martin’s behavior, but said her concerns began about a year ago.
Sirke has not reported to me for almost a year, so I don’t understand the issues she cites in her resignation letter. Still, I’m sorry she feels that way, and wish her nothing but the best in her new job.
City Administrator Mike Martin
Salminen was removed from Martin’s supervision following a performance evaluation of him in October 2015, and was reporting directly to Korthuis. Martin mentioned that change when he responded to Salminen’s claims on Friday.
“Sirke has not reported to me for almost a year, so I don’t understand the issues she cites in her resignation letter,” Martin said in an email. “Still, I’m sorry she feels that way, and wish her nothing but the best in her new job.”
Salminen’s resignation comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed just last week by three other female former department heads. Amy Harksell, former planning director, former finance director Teresa Camfield and Linda Peterson, former human resources manager, filed the lawsuit Friday, Aug. 26, in Whatcom County Superior Court.
Salminen said she is not involved in the lawsuit at the moment.
“That’s about all I can say,” she said.
Camfield and Peterson retired in 2014 as a direct result of Martin’s behavior, the lawsuit says, adding that they both retired two years earlier than they had planned. Harksell resigned in June after a month of medical leave, the lawsuit said, adding that her doctor recommended she take the time off because of the stress associated with the job.
Like Salminen’s letter, the lawsuit, in part, accuses Martin of dismissing the women’s work. Martin, the lawsuit says, often would not accept the work until a male employee reviewed and signed off on it. The lawsuit also says Martin would interrupt or ignore female employees in meetings but would hear ideas from male colleagues “with interest and enthusiasm.”
The lawsuit names Martin, Korthuis and the city as defendants, and, like Salminen’s letter, says the women filed complaints about Martin.
“I hired him and I have to stand behind him,” Korthuis is quoted in the lawsuit as saying in response to the women’s claims.
Korthuis, on Friday, said he still stood by that statement.
“I’m sticking to that, but at the same time I’m reviewing all documentation and ... taking into account any new information,” he said. “But my goal is to always do what is best for the city.”