Council cites law in declining to talk about Martin exit

Sean C. Morgan

Hobbled by concerns over the legality of commenting on a labor issue, Sweet Home city councilors told a crowd of some 50 people at the Community Center Tuesday that they couldn’t tell them why they forced Craig Martin to retire after 18 years.

But they called for the city to move on and individually shared their visions for Sweet Home Tuesday after hearing from members of the crowd, who wanted to know what direction the council is headed in the wake of the city manager’s forced retirement.

The council forced Craig Martin to retire April 30. According to the release agreement between Martin and the council, “A majority of the councilors have indicated the time is right for a change in management and executive direction of the city.”

“The council made a new decision to go in a new direction,” said Mayor Jim Gourley at the time.

Members of the public questioned the council about the change in direction at a special meeting held on May 2 to decide how to hire an interim city manager.

Council members told them then to return to its regular meeting on May 10 for further discussion on the matter.

At Tuesday’s meeting, City Attorney Robert Snyder warned that certain topics would be off-limits, due to the contract signed by Martin and the council.

The topic of direction of the city is a good one. It can be discussed by using ideas of the public and ideas of the council, but comparisons will not be made by the council between what Craig Martin would or would not do,” Snyder said. “The council and Craig Martin entered into the agreement, and both I am sure, will try their best to honor it.”

Snyder said the council could not talk about the past.

Present at the meeting Tuesday evening were councilors James Goble, Dave Trask, Bruce Hobbs and Jeff Goodwin and Mayor Jim Gourley. Greg Mahler and Ryan Underwood were absent.

Discussion Between Public

and City Council

Residents at the council meeting had plenty of questions for the council about the events of the past few weeks.

Martin’s effective resignation date was April 30. The council is just this week hiring an interim manager.

“The question I had and what concerned me was that at the last meeting we were at, the council acted as if they hadn’t planned for Craig to be (involuntarily retired),” said Theresa Brown. “When the question came up as to who would cover him and his responsibilities, I even heard someone say, ‘Well, can’t the staff just do that?’ Why that concerns me is that how do you have the judgment and the wisdom to (involuntarily retire) a person from a position because you don’t think they’re heading the same direction the city is if you’re not even aware of what job they do and who could cover and not cover for that.”

“As far as direction, I think that’s something the rest of the council’s going to have to come together on what they want to see in a new city manager, a change from the direction we were going,” Gourley said. And the council was planning to appoint a clerk to handle meetings and some duties during the meeting on May 10.

Residents were critical of the council for forcing out the city manager without explanation. Tim Swanson called on the council to stand up and explain itself. They questioned how the council could make this decision when it doesn’t have a direction set yet. It has yet to finalize its goals for the year.

“Something more concrete than simply a different direction would ease a lot of that frustration,” suggested resident Gary Jarvis.

“I’m not satisfied with the past,” said resident Tim Swanson. “I’m a citizen here, and this surprise vote for going to force out the city manager for any reason we can’t discuss. I’m a citizen. I want more than that.

“I don’t know if I’m actually hearing you right,” said resident Jeani West. “Craig Martin wasn’t ready to go forward with your direction. However, you said you haven’t even set any goals yet, so how do you know if he’s going to go forward with it or not. What happened? We want to know why this happened. But you can’t talk about it because it’s illegal. Why would we have this meeting? That’s why we came, so we could find out what was going on. I don’t think that’s asking too much.”

Resident Vince Adams said he “kind of” understands the council’s dilemma.

“They’re not allowed to.”

“I want you to know that I personally did not take this lightly,” said Councilor Dave Trask. “I’m not going to talk about the past either. I want to move forward. This is the decision we made, and it is what it is. We didn’t do this lightly. It wasn’t like it happened overnight.”

“There reaches a point where you sometimes have to trust the City Council,” said Councilor Jeff Goodwin.

“Each person up here has been selected, has been elected, is known by the people in this city, and they have been chosen for different reasons, ultimately because you trust them. I’ve got to tell you sitting on the other side of this table it can be frustrating at times because it feels like people aren’t interested or aren’t involved unless something sparks their attention. Believe me everybody here at this table wants the (community) to be involved.”

Councilors Describe

Visions for the City

The councilors described their visions following the questioning.

Goble: “I think we need to capitalize on our recreational potential that we have here. By doing that, we can hopefully bring tourism or other business to our town for this, but I feel we need to capitalize on what we have because we have a huge recreational background here outdoors”

Gourley: “Over the last 24 years, I’ve seen a lot of change, went from being a highly industrial area to being more of a service-oriented type area. I think there’s a way for us to go forward and to stay involved through Tour Oregon, Cycle Oregon, all those things that are out there that we have, that we’ve been involved in. I think we need to stay involved in the Forest Service programs.”

He continued about how ongoing regional economic development helps Sweet Home and the importance of keeping children involved in sports and school, how it helps children learn to be leaders.

Trask: “I think in many council meetings, I was told that we had resigned ourselves to being a recreational community, and I reject that. I think that we have failed miserably to bring new business into this community.”

He praised the efforts of Troy Cummins and Phil Ordway to attrack business to Sweet Home on property they own east of Clark Mill.

“I keep getting the song and dance we live too far from the freeway. Who was it that built that place over in Prineville? They’re not close to anything. That’s my thing. That’s my biggest disappointment. That’s kind of where I stand.”

He also said he has a passion for improving public parks.

Hobbs: “My vision is a little bit different. I don’t always believe city government’s job is to push its vision. Our job is to allow, to be able to facilitate and allow business to move forward with their goals. I’m very libertarian with this, so I guess for me the best I can, while still providing the services the city needs, is to attempt to get out of the way.”

Goodwin: “I was elected to this council a year and a half ago, roughly. I was frustrated with the way things were run in the city. I felt like I could do a good job, but I didn’t have an idea why I was running other than I was frustrated with the way it was, and I wanted it to be better.

So I had to ask myself the question after I was elected what is it you want to do, specifically. That’s where I came up with that program. I was taking notes, and I was thinking, clean, safe, prosperous, beautiful and healthy.”

He is sick of meth dealers and drug activity. He wants to put another detective on the streets to fight it. He wants to improve pedestrian safety. He wants to bring industry and jobs while continuing to be a retirement community, but the community needs jobs for its young people.

Gourley told the audience that what they had just heard was “a tiny snippet of what people actually believe.

“If you continually come to City Council meetings, you’ll get more of an idea of where people are on their beliefs,” he said.

“I think that as we go along, everybody would love to have the jobs coming here. We’d love to go down that path. We’d love to do some of the other things. We’re not exactly sure how to make that all happen, and I think part of the initial thing, we have goals, we come together as a council to try to come up with those. We need to figure out how we can make goals and dreams of this community from the community fit into what we’re going to do as a council.”

End Of Discussion

“I listened to your views and your visions for Sweet Home, and I think they’re wonderful,” West told the council.

“But the problem I have is I can’t imagine Craig Martin disagreeing with any of you on those visions. How is it that his vision for Sweet Home is so far different from yours that it ends up with his (termination)?”

“It’s been asked and answered,” Snyder said.

The City Council appointed Finance Director Pat Gray as interim clerk.

She will handle meetings and some of the city manager’s duties.

The City Council scheduled meetings for 5 p.m. on May 17 and 6 p.m. on May 18 to consider applicants who are interested in serving as city manager pro tem while the city searches for a permanent city manager.