Council members hear questions about manager’s forced retirement, describe visions for city

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 after 18 years. 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.

Snyder said the council has contacted the League of Oregon Cities for information about hiring city managers. City officials have contacted other cities that have recently hired city managers for information. The council also intends to draw from a city manager pro tem during the hiring process.

Based on materials he has read, Snyder said, a combination of citizens, employees and councilors will interview candidates for city manager. The final decision is by the City Council based on the City Charter.

The city has taken resumes and received references on candidates for an interim city manager.

The finance director, Public Works director, a professional negotiator and the council are the team for union negotiations already under way, he said.

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.

“The question I had and what concerned me was that at the last meeting we were out, 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.”

Martin’s effective resignation date was April 30.

In the short term, the council was planning to appoint an interim clerk to handle meetings and take care of some city manager responsibilities, Gourley said.

“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.”

Brown replied that there is “at least the perception” that “things have been decided without some forethought.”

“Maybe there was forethought. Maybe it had been planned for a long time, but the perception of lack of forethought of how do we manage without a city manager before we make that decision to get rid of one?”

Goodwin responded: “There’s no question need we better processes. This council is not as organized as I would like to see it. Things are not done as well as I would like to see them done. I think everybody up here would like processes to be better and to be clearer and more transparent. Sometimes there’s legal constraints that cause damage, so a lot of what the public, the city, didn’t see happened in executive session.

“There reaches a point where you sometimes have to trust the City Council. 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.”

Two months ago, City Council had a goal-setting session over two days, Gourley said. The council has yet to adopt them. Once it does, he said he thinks the council needs to sit down with the people in the city and explain what the goals are and how they came about. He suggested a community goal session and getting the community involved in the process.

Trask added: “I want you to know that I personally did not take this lightly. To answer one of your questions, there’s no good time. There’s never a good time, and if we would’ve done this two years ago, we would’ve been going through the same process. We’re bound to do what our charter says to do and what we can legally do. 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.”

News reports indicated a majority of councilors favored the change in direction, he said. Identifying who favored the change would benefit the community.

“Something more concrete than simply a different direction would ease a lot of that frustration,” suggested resident Gary Jarvis. “Talking about timing, it could not be worse with negotiations with general city employees under way and police bargaining coming up.

“I do thank you for your comment,” Gourley said.

“That’s where it should be left,” Snyder said.

“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 do not believe that you need to hide behind, ‘Well, we have a severance package.’ You may need to do that now, legally, but that is a wuss-out, in my opinion. You need to stand up like men and explain yourselves and be honest. Let the truth fall where it falls. Now we have to hide behind legal severance packages. You didn’t have to do that two weeks ago. I’m calling you. I’m calling on you. Stand up. I voted for you. Stand up like men.”

“I’m not sure you understand,” Goodwin said. “That’s been the case the entire time. That hasn’t been a result of a contract we sought. That’s been the case the entire time, and you should have heard us fighting with each other and arguing with each other. How many dollars, though, are you willing to spend defending that lawsuit and paying the damages?”

“I understand, but we’ve got an agreement,” Snyder said in response to Swanson’s comments. “It’s labor law. That’s where we stand. We have an agreement, and that’s what we’re going to stick with.”

“I agree with Mr. Swanson and all of his frustration,” said resident Dave Erickson. “It seems to me that Mr. Snyder, our attorney, keeps trying to close windows and doors to obscure what’s gong on. Maybe we need a new attitude there, Mr. Snyder, to find a way to open windows and doors instead of closing them all the time.”

“That’s not just his feeling,” Gourley said. “The labor attorney that we have up in Portland has sent him directions also on that also, so it’s not just him.”

“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.”

“I kind of understand where these guys are coming from with not disclosing or not being able to talk about certain issues where Craig Martin is concerned,” said resident Vince Adams. “They’re not allowed to.”

Adams said he has experience with union and business issues related to employment. At some point, “there’s a legal issue that says they can’t discuss certain things,” he said. “They would probably discuss them if they could, but they’re not allowed to.”

“We’re a small community, and everybody’s taking it kind of personal,” said Goble, who is new to the council and was not present when the council voted on the release agreement. “I do understand that, and also, why are we here tonight if we’re not going to try to answer some sort of question? I’m sorry. I may be out of line or out of order, whatever, but I think there’s some questions that we come close to giving an idea or a feeling or something.”

“We’ve already asked and answered on that,” Snyder said. “It’s labor law. We’re not going to discuss an employee, and the employee doesn’t discuss us. That’s where it sits.”

“It’s obvious you won’t touch the Craig Martin issue, but nobody is aware of these things until after the fact,” said resident Shawn Anderson. Referencing earlier comments, he noted “there’s a million different ways to get the community more involvement.”

The public response to this grew out of Facebook conversations on the topic, he said.

“Everything is hidden behind a lawyer after the fact, and that’s really aggravating,” Anderson said. “One question I have that nobody has yet to answer tonight, I’d love to hear from each one of you guys. I’ve heard it said the reason Martin was dismissed was a difference in vision of Sweet Home. What is each one of your visions for the city? ”

“I believe we can do part of that,” Hobbs said. “We can easily go around and each of us say what our vision is.”

Councilors Describe Visions For City

In response to Anderson’s statements, councilors responded with their ideas. In a condensed form, they are:

Goble: “I think we need to capitalize on our recreational potential that we have here. I feel we need to capitalize on our recreational potential, find a way to coexist. 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 and stop letting the county capitalize on things we could be doing. That’s part of it.”

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. I think all those are really good. I think those are great programs. I think that we can bring more folks into Sweet Home through doing that. I still believe as a group (of area mayors) we’re still sitting down and talking about how we can bring in businesses to the area, not just to Sweet Home but to the area. I think that we can look at if Lebanon can bring in a business and we can help them, we’re going to get our percentage of the jobs here.

“I think the vision for Sweet Home also is I’d like to see us work more on how we can keep our streets safer and our kids more active in sports. As a lot of you know, I’ve done that for years with my kids. I’ve taken them all over the world, and I think that it helps our kids to learn to be leaders and to be that person that will be gone to in the future for help and that will put in the time and the effort to do the things that are needed in our community. I’m not looking at one day, today or tomorrow. I’m looking at 20 years or 30 years down the road. If we’re not training our leaders today and we’re not looking at our things today, then we’re certainly not looking at our issues for tomorrow. I have a lot more. If you had another 20 minutes I could talk to you about what I’d like to do.”

Trask: “I ran for council hoping that things that I would like to see could be accomplished. That’s a long process. 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, and I was very encouraged when Mr. (Troy) Cummings came, who owns property down the east of Clark Mill, told us that they were interested in bringing something in here. But that has not happened at this point.

“The other thing that’s a passion for me is our public parks. It’s always been about money, always, always, always been about money, and I think that you’re going to find that this coming next year or so you’re going to see a huge difference in Sankey Park and some of the other parks. My biggest vision if you want to call it a vision is to get more businesses that employ more than three people. I think we’ve let the people down there.

“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.”

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. I’m definitely more along personal freedoms and people’s ability to do as they wish with their own property.”

Goodwin: “I kind of shared my vision with you earlier. 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.

“What does that mean? What does that mean? I’m sick of the meth dealers. I’m sick of the drug activity in this town. I’ve been doing everything I can to put additional resources in law enforcement to clean this town up. Chief (Jeff) Lynn, I’ve got your back. That’s what I represent on the council. I want to put another detective on the street. We had a fight about that in Budget Committee last week. I want to put him out there. I want to bust drug dealers. I want to get them out of this town. The people want that too. They’re frustrated. They’re fed up with the drugs. That’s right at the top of the list.

“Pedestrian safety is another issue for me. I’m frustrated with seeing little kids riding (without) helmets. Let’s get bike helmets on our kids. Let’s get the crosswalks safer. There is a 1.7-mile stretch of this city where there is no painted crosswalk across the highway. Jobs. Jobs, man. I’m right there with Councilor Trask on that. We need to bring in industry. We need to bring in jobs. We can be a retirement community. We can bring in lots of people. That’s what we’re seeing a lot of, people from California buying big beautiful houses in Sweet Home. I love that. We welcome the retirement people. It’s wonderful. I love that they can use our lakes and our rivers and all that, but we also need to bring in jobs for our young people.

“When I first came to the City of Sweet Home, I was getting a job interview, and before the job interview I went over to Sankey Park and I talked to some kids at high school. The kids that were not in high school during the day. I asked, ‘Why aren’t you?’ ‘There’s no point. There’s no point in going to school. There’s no future.’

“We’ve got to change that attitude. We’ve got to change that reality because maybe they’re right, there is no future in this town. Let’s make a future. Let’s get the jobs. Let’s change the attitude. Let’s change the reality of it. Beautiful. I want this city to be beautiful. I look at a concept plan we came up with for Strawberry Park. If I could make it happen, I’d love to do that this summer. I know the council’s going to fight me on that because they don’t think the money is there. I’m going to try to persuade them tomorrow that it is.

“We’re going to have that Budget Committee fight tomorrow night. Come to the Budget Committee. See what we do. We fight with each other, but I want to see this beautiful dream come true. I really do. I want to see this as a town people are proud of. I want to see them excited to move here. I want to see house values going up and all of that happening because people love this town. Those are the things I’m working on at the City Council.”

Can it all happen immediately? Goodwin asked. “We’re working on it. We fight with each other. We struggle because everybody here wants what’s best for the city. We just disagree on how to do it. Your feedback is a part of that, and we’re all trying to make it happen.”

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. The council will talk to possible candidates for interim manager within the city organization, such as Public Works Director Mike Adams, who said he may be interested, and then consider outside applicants.

Editor’s note: We have posted a live recording of the City Council meeting on the right-hand side of our Home Page.