‘Different’ should be transparency

Different’ should be transparency


For the past few weeks, the residents of Sweet Home have been bewildered and confused at the forced retirement of our city manager, Craig Martin.

After discussion and questions asked of City Council as to why they made their decision, the public has gotten stonewalled. The reason for this stonewalling is apparently due to the secret departure and severance package and those signatory to that package and agreement. At the City Council meeting on May 10, most questions from the public were answered with “to answer that could result in a lawsuit;” “we can’t answer that;” “I’m not going to talk about the past;” or “it is time to move forward.”

OK, due to legal issues surrounding the “gag” language in the retirement/severance agreement signed between the departed city manager and the City Council, we have what we have: people hiding behind the cloak of secrecy of language that they put into the agreement.

That is a cop-out because it certainly did not have to be handled this way. It is all very convenient that the council does not have to reveal who was on the prevailing side in the consensus that sealed Martin’s fate, and that they included language in the agreement that prohibits them from commenting on the episode at all.

The “different direction” that I would like to see come out of this fiasco is transparency. And if that transparency is not codified in our city charter, it should be.

I lived rurally in the Eugene area for many years. The City Council routinely fought for their proposals in the public arena. It was never a secret as to who favored this or that, and why.

When it came to the city manager, there were periodic reviews on which the city manager was graded in all areas of performance. This gave the city manager an opportunity to correct perceived deficiencies. If there was a move afoot to void a contract with the city manager, the public was made fully aware of it.

I imagine this could have been done here in Sweet Home. But instead, because the City Council was not required to use such method, they chose to use existing rules that permitted virtual secrecy which then was memorialized via the “non-disclosure clause” they, themselves created. This whole thing could have, and should have been done in the light of day.

The council asked at the May 10 meeting for citizens to trust them. I want to trust them since they are our elected officials. However, trust needs to be earned, and using the most shrouded methodology to remove the city manager, does not instill confidence or trust.

Clearly, there was not enough thought put into this decision. At the May 10 meeting, the council fumbled through city charter requirements as far as how to appoint the pro-tem clerk and pro-tem city manager and eventual filling of the permanent city manager position. I, for one was uncomfortable as the council cajoled and groused at two fine city employees to take on the role of pro-tem offices.

One had already taken on the pro-tem clerk duties in addition to her real job. She (Pat Gray) already has her Finance Director job plus the added pro-tem clerk duties. The other (Mike Adams) already has his own job, plus he has taken over many of the duties of Public Works maintenance supervision since the passing of Pat Wood. Now the council publicly cajoles these already overworked employees to take on the city manager duties.

Ultimately, I feel that Martin was forced out because the council found that he was getting in the way of something they wanted to do.

Throughout life, we have to work with people with whom we disagree, and most of us find a way to accomplish that. This has all the earmarks of a coup by the council that was exercised “because they could” rather than “because they should”.

Beyond the fact that I believe the decision to force Martin out was a very poor choice, the timing could not have been worse.

Between contract negotiations currently going on with city employees, the police officers negotiating very soon, and the ongoing attempts to replace City Hall, the council made a decision to squander scores of thousands of dollars for work not performed by our former city manager, which seems to this writer to have been a huge waste of much needed public money.

Gary Jarvis

Sweet Home