City Council sends City Manager Craig Martin into ‘involuntary retirement’ after 18 years

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council and City Manager Craig Martin entered into an agreement Tuesday night that ends Martin’s employment with the city after more than 18 years effective April 30.

Under the agreement, Martin will be compensated $126,000, including $10,000 of pay through the end of April, $11,000 for unused vacation, $50,000 in unused sick leave and six months of his salary, $54,000.

Martin has been the city manager since 1997.

Voting for the agreement were Mayor Jim Gourley and councilors Ryan Underwood, Greg Mahler, Dave Trask and Bruce Hobbs. Jeff Goodwin voted no, in opposition to the terms of the agreement. New Councilor James Goble was absent.

The council did not explain why a majority of its members decided to ask Martin to resign, why it was time for a change. The agreement describes Martin’s departure as an involuntary retirement, saying, “A majority of the councilors have indicated the time is right for a change in management and executive direction off the city. Under these circumstances, Martin has elected to retire. The council’s preference for change is unrelated to any job performance or conduct considerations or any characteristic protected by law.”

Elsewhere, the agreement adds, “Considerations and vision for the city shared by and between Martin, the mayor and members of the council have evolved such that each shares the conclusion that it is in the interest of each and the city that Martin elect to retire following his 18 years of distinguished service and community leadership.

“The mayor and council desire that Martin’s retirement be a celebration of success and contributions Martin has made to the community in collaboration with multiple mayors and city councils.”

Goodwin agreed with the council that it was time for a change, he said about his decision to vote no; but the city already had an agreement with Martin, a contract he signed in 2013. The contract provided a less generous severance package, six months salary, if the council asked Martin to resign or terminated his employment.

“The dollars at issue are public funds,” Goodwin said. “The city’s fiscal position is well known. There are roads to be fixed, parks to be maintained and improved, crosswalks that are unsafe and a number of other areas where that money is not only wanted but needed.

“This is not personal, but principled. The employment agreement terms are clear, and both the former City Council and Craig agreed. That was the deal, and I’m unaware of any reason to depart from the contracts, policies and precedents that are in the best interest of this city.”

Martin stated: “I understand, based on the communications with the mayor, as well as communications with other designated representatives of the council, that it is the desire of a majority of the council to initiate a change in leadership and end my services as city manager of the City of Sweet Home.

“I fully understand and respect both the council’s authority and the ability to take such action per the provisions of the city charter and my current employment agreement.

“In order to make this desired change in leadership the least disruptive to all parties concerned and in the best interests of the city and myself, I respectfully request that this matter be acted upon by the council as soon as practicable. Given the stated desires of the majority of the council to change the leadership continued deferral of this matter is detrimental to all parties concerned especially to the city organization and the staff.

“To this end I am prepared to honor the wishes of the council to end my service and accept the separation agreement that was prepared by the city and shared with me this afternoon. It’s been my sincere pleasure to serve the citizens and community of Sweet Home during my 18-plus years.”

Goodwin added, “Craig Martin has served the city faithfully for many years, and he is a good friend of mine.

“I reflect with great satisfaction on his continuous commitment to community involvement such as participation in the Rotary Club and other local organizations, and I always enjoy seeing him out early on Tuesday mornings helping with beautifying our city by placing and caring for the flowers along Main Street.

“Over the years, circumstances have changed. Craig has done nothing wrong, however the council desires and priorities have changed so that it appears as a body we don’t have trust and confidence that he’s the best person for this position at this time.

“Many city managers serve in their positions for only a few years. The fact that Craig has served this city for so long is a testament to the quality of his service. He will be missed. I hope he will continue his involvement in Sweet Home and we will see him out and about as we all continue to serve this city and its people.”

Gourley told The New Era that the decision reflected “the will of the council.”

“The council made a new decision to go in a new direction. I agree that we should do this contract as we’ve renegotiated it. Craig agrees. He wants things to change.”

Gourley said the council would discuss an interim administrator during its next regular meeting, 7:30 p.m. on April 26 in the City Council Chamber, 1140 12th Ave. He anticipates filling the position within about four months.

Goodwin called for the city to “move on.”

“After tonight, I intend to move forward from this discussion and begin the process of searching for a new city manager who we can agree will serve this city well and move it forward,” he said. “If asked, I will have no further comment than this explanation I have made tonight. I hope each of us on the council and all Sweet Home citizens can and will move on with me. Let us not dwell in the past but work together toward a bright future for our city.”

In addition to staff who typically attend council meetings, eight employees and former employees attended the meeting. Among them were the city’s mechanic Tim Riley and Norm Sharp, maintenance.

“Craig’s a good man,” Riley said. “I think he put the city first in a lot of things.”

Riley disagreed with Martin on a lot of things, he said, including contract negotiations where they sit across the table from each other, “but Craig’s a good man.”

On weekends, Martin could be found cleaning up town and serving his community, Riley said. “I think Craig really loves this community, and I think he did a lot for it.”

The problem with this decision right now is that the city and unions are in the middle of bargaining, Riley said.

“I’ve worked with him in a lot of different areas,” Sharp said, with the safety committee, water issues and the median strip.

Martin’s a “good guy,” Sharp said.

“In all of his tenure, the city manager has never been handed a budget that was like ‘Wow! Here’s what we can do,” Riley said. He said Martin has always had to deal with cutbacks and limited resources since Ballot Measure 5, passed in 1990, which affected the city, Martin and all the people working for him.

“It’s been a tough road. That’s all there is to it,” Riley said.