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Council removes Parks Board chair

 

July 5, 2016



Following a revolt by members of the city Parks Board, the Sweet Home City Council voted 5-0 to remove Parks Board Chair Jane Hazen from the committee last week.

It was the first time the City Council has removed a member from a city committee in at least 20 years.

Parks Board member Angela Clegg read a letter to the council during its regular meeting on June 28 requesting the removal of Hazen, who was then the board’s chair.

The letter was also on behalf of Parks Board members Andrew Allen and Nancy Patton. Patton was present at the council meeting with Clegg, but Allen did not attend.

New Parks Board member Mariann Biteman was also at the meeting but did not comment on the issue.

Hazen denied the accusations, calling Clegg’s letter “lies” and the situation a “witch hunt.” She told the council that she was just doing her job trying to organize a Parks Board that seldom had a quorum and had irregularities with its minutes.

The Complaint

Clegg read a letter to Hazen during the regular Parks Board meeting on June 20. In the letter, Clegg, Patton and Allen requested that she resign immediately. If she did not resign, the letter said, they would leave the meeting immediately and then request that the council remove Hazen. If the council failed to remove Hazen, they would resign from the Parks Board.

They accused Hazen of misrepresenting her position and the Parks Board in the community and on social media, according to the letter, indicating that Hazen was not acting in the best interests of the board when in a public setting.

In the letter, the writers said Hazen set up meetings and represented the Parks Board without discussion or a vote from a quorum of the board. Patton, Allen and Clegg said they were uncomfortable with Hazen’s “threatening and bully tactics.”

The letter claimed Hazen sent threatening emails and posted negative comments about the Parks Board and its members on social media without facts, approval of the City Council or approval of the Parks Board.

“Jane misrepresents the board on multiple occasions and does not have the Parks Board or this community’s best interests at heart,” Clegg told the council.

During the June 14 council meeting, Clegg said, Hazen told the council that a contract with the University of Oregon to develop a concept plan for Sankey Park (see page 12) “was initiated and developed without discussion, review or recommendation by the Parks Board. She went on complaining about the planning process for Strawberry Park, not having time to recruit community-based professionals, etc.”

Hazen was representing the Parks Board, Clegg said. However, the Parks Board did not meet to discuss her statements to the council before the meeting.

Hazen was not informed on the issue of Sankey Park because she was not part of the board during the time the process took place, Clegg said.

Clegg joined the board in June 2015, she said. From that time until December, “the Parks Board was very involved in the planning and community involvement of Strawberry Park. It was because of this process and the community feedback that we decided it would be a great process for Sankey Park as well. We were very involved, and we did bring in area professionals.”

Hazen began attending Parks Board meetings in November, Clegg said.

“That is when all of our progress started taking a different direction. Instead of reviewing the processes that took place before her attendance on the Parks Board, Jane chose to start her own agenda and make accusations about a process that she was not even around for.”

She said board members agree with Hazen about the attendance issue. However, Clegg said, they were “uncomfortable with how she has gone about trying to make the changes.”

“She sends out threatening emails and makes posts on Facebook, speaking ill of the board and making accusations that are not based in fact.

“She also posts to the community that we don’t want to change meeting times and are working hard to exclude the community, which is absolutely false. We also would like to look at other times, but the times Jane proposed didn’t work with the schedules of those of us that work. But never have we said we wouldn’t consider changes.”

Clegg provided copies to the council of Facebook posts she said were written by Hazen.

One described how the Parks Board meeting time changed from once a month at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon to 8:30 a.m. on the third Monday. That post stated that attendance by citizens and Parks Board members had been inadequate, with only a single meeting achieving a quorum since July 2015.

“At least two Parks Board members refuse to discuss alternative times and days that would be more accessible to citizen participation and input as well as in compliance with Oregon State and Public Meeting and Records Law,” the post continued. “I’m completely at a loss for why they are working so hard making meeting time and place inaccessible to others?”

In another of Facebook posts submitted by Clegg, Hazen said that she “will be advocating as required reading text for the park Board member training (especially new members who may be somewhat more comprehensively literate) the following fun-to-read text: ‘Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists and Other Serial Offenders.’”

In another, she stated that “members of the Park Board (except me) have refused to change the meeting.”

Following Clegg’s statement, Mayor Pro Tem Greg Mahler, who conducted the meeting in the absence of Mayor Jim Gourley, asked Clegg: “Is there any way this matter can be resolved within your Parks Board?”

“We tried,” Clegg answered. “No.”

Mahler invited Hazen to respond.

Hazen’s Response

“I’m not prepared to address unfounded accusations Miss Clegg or others or any accusations or threats without legal counsel present,” Hazen said.

“The facts of my service and contribution as chair of the Park Board stand in reflection of the time, expertise and patience I’ve committed to my responsibilities as guided by Sweet Home City Ordinance 2.16.010, Oregon Public Meetings and Public Records Law and the universally accepted rules of order.

“I would say that I came on as chair in January, and at that time the attendance, quorum and public records compliance was an issue. At that time, I took the issues to quite a few people and ended up with the mayor in terms of how do I deal with the attendance issue and the fact that there was no quorum for over a year except for one January meeting in 2016.

“I compiled a lot of information and realized that not only were we operating without a quorum but that we were publishing minutes when only one or two Park Board members were present, as if it was a quorum and represented under public law. So this became a serious issue for me in terms of we were operating out of compliance with public law. That means I had to get more people in attendance.

“That’s what it was about. I have data, public records from 2007 to present showing that, at best, one-third of the Park Board meetings are held under public quorum and rules of order. In my understanding of public meeting law, if there is no quorum at an advisory or recommendary board, then no quorum should be called and the minutes not distributed as a public meeting.”

“That was the issue at hand when I began recruiting in public for participation and realized that no one wants to come to an 8:30 a.m. Monday morning meeting.”

Hazen told Mahler that she is not opposed to mediation involving Mayor Jim Gourley, who was absent from the council meeting last week.

“What I am opposed to is if you remove the only person that has an attendance record for a year, that sends a message to every single citizen in your community that says if you attend the meetings and do your job and someone doesn’t like you, you’re out,” Hazen said.

“It doesn’t have to do with your qualifications. It doesn’t have to do with your stance on issues. It doesn’t have to do with the fact that you spent two weeks reading every single minutes that was available. It doesn’t have to do with the fact that you’re there ahead of time at the meetings. It doesn’t have to do with the fact that you email members of the board, asking them to notify the chair as per ordinance when they’re going to be absent.

“It certainly has to do with trying to get other people, not just board members, to attend public meetings when they are inaccessible at 8:30 on a Monday morning. So you really can’t hurt me. I’ve been sitting at empty meetings for a year and stuck on my hands, not being able to do anything because there wasn’t a quorum to do anything.

“What you’re hurting is anyone else that should come forward with the intention to obey not only the ordinance that Sweet Home has created since 1972 but the Freedom of Information Act and the idea that civil participation can be based on not your attendance, not your qualifications, not your ability to show up for work on time every time but because somebody doesn’t like the way you look or speak or whatever.”

Councilor James Goble spoke up.

“I applaud your efforts in the education and everything you’ve done and tried to work forward to, but there’s also a key to communication on this. I have approached you outside when you’re asking for help with the parks and getting people involved. I am highly involved in trying to help everybody out and a lot of us have pulled groups together to do things. You were asking for help. I approached you, and you were blatantly rude to me and told me to go away without even hearing why I came to you. I was coming to help.”

“I was talking to someone else at the time, sir,” Hazen said.

Resident Theresa Brown said, in support of Hazen:“She’s very procedural, let’s just say that, about what’s going on in decision-making for city government.

“When she was involved, she tried to follow the procedures that she thought made up public meeting and decision making. I feel like just because three people decide that she shouldn’t be there shouldn’t be the only question that needs to be asked to make them effective. There should be some discussion even though people may not want to work together, maybe someone on the City Council could facilitate a discussion and go from there.

“We can’t let this board be dysfunctional, but I think there’s effort from both sides that needs to be taken into consideration. I think there’s also intent from both sides that needs to be taken into consideration. Just because three out of one don’t like you, sometimes I don’t feel like that’s a fair reason to eliminate that one person.

“It doesn’t imply that there hasn’t been attempts made to try to get people to communicate better or to understand. She was trying to do the right thing. Maybe it was hard-a--, maybe it was the wrong way to try to get attendance, but I think her heart was there.”

Hazen forwarded an email to The New Era she believes is one that Clegg may have been referencing, but she wasn’t certain which emails Clegg was referring to in Clegg’s comments.

“I only stated that if poor attendance continued, I would turn the matter over to the mayor as both he and the city manager pro tem had advised me,” she told The New Era. “It was my responsibility as chairperson to encourage board members and citizen guests to attend open and accessible Park Board meetings.”

In that email, she wrote: “As Chairperson of this board, I’m requesting that each of you review your attendance and other commitments in order to decide where best to serve the community. I know several of you have multiple commitments and responsibilities, both familial and community. If you believe you are unable to meet the attendance requirements of the Park Board, please respectfully submit your resignation by email to me and City Council.

“The Park Board cannot meet its responsibilities as directed by SH Code 12.16.010 with continued absences of members and lack of quorum.

“Poor attendance hurts the Park Board directly. It is disrespectful to the other members and attendees (city staff, visitors). It also (see chart attached) prevents a quorum, which means that we do not legally represent the community when we meet. ”

Council Response

“We have basically four options here,” Mahler said. “Actually, one was thrown off the table.

“One was (to) see if we could resolve this matter internally as a group of the Parks Board. Obviously, the answer is no. We can disband the Parks Board completely and entirely as a council. That’s an option. The other option is we can terminate a member if they are not working as a group, as a member of the party. Or we can accept a resignation, and from my understanding, she has not resigned.”

Councilor Jeff Goodwin said the Parks Board has been doing “valuable work.”

“They have important things to do. We’re dealing with a lot of issues right now. I don’t think it makes sense to suspend the Parks Board. We’ve got a committee that’s simply not functioning. There’s obviously some kind of a dispute within that committee, and I think we need to get to the bottom of it and make a decision what we want to do. We’re talking about parks issues constantly. We’ve got Strawberry Park plan we’re working on. We’ve got Sankey Park we’re working on.”

Councilor Dave Trask noted that he’s been involved in the situation “for some time.”

“I think the option is if we make the wrong decision, we won’t have a Parks Board,” he said. “It’s just that simple. I don’t think we can have all this animosity between all of them and accomplish anything. And you’re right. We have things that need to get done and need to get done before the summer’s over. I don’t want to lose the board. If they can’t, my question would’ve been to Angela, do you think we can resolve this. Can we sit down and resolve this? From the chats I’ve had with the Parks Board, that’s not going to happen.

“I had some of the same issues in a meeting with her, and the same thing that happened to Councilor Goble. I was trying to talk, and I was interrupted twice, and I had to say ‘excuse me’ twice to that person so that I could finish my statement. That’s not the way you communicate, and it bothers me that one person is willing to disband a whole group of people who have been here for a long, long time and is willing to let that all just go out the window over herself.

Goodwin noted that he had “a letter here with three signatures from a five-person board.”

“That’s what they think is best for their board. This is not a comfortable situation, but I’m inclined to go with the recommendation of the board. What a thankless job. I appreciate what you guys do for the city. This is not fun. No pay, no recognition for all the hard work they do in trying to make this city a better place. I appreciate everybody’s part of that, but the recommendation of the board is clear.”

Councilor Ryan Underwood wondered why minutes were distributed when a quorum of the board was not present to conduct a meeting.

Interim City Manager Christy Wurster said staff researched the issue and she consulted with City Attorney Robert Snyder regarding “how many members constitute a quorum and whether minutes should be prepared.”

“Moving forward, we’ve given direction to chair Hazen and to our staff representatives that they’re not to proceed with the meeting without it a being a quorum present and to not take minutes. We can’t change the past. We can only get legal interpretation and move forward in the process.”

Goodwin said that the problem didn’t seem to be a lack of interest in complying with the law.

“From what I’ve heard, I think the issue has more to deal with how that issue was addressed within the organization than it has to do with what the issue is,” Goodwin said.

“Everybody wants to comply with Oregon public meetings laws. Everybody wants to communicate effectively. That’s an issue, but the real problem is functioning within the committee. Can this committee function the way that it’s set up now? I get the impression that it cannot.”

Mahler said he respected citizens who volunteer for committees and boards.

“Obviously, we have a situation here where they’re not going to be able to work together,” Mahler said.

“The Parks Board’s automatically going to have three resignations; therefore, the Parks Board will be disbanded itself with that alone. I am confident that the individuals on that board would have worked out these issues amongst themselves if there wasn’t a problem within the structure of the board because of that conflict. I think that’s the real issue.”

Goodwin moved to remove Hazen from the Parks Board. Trask seconded the motion. The council voted 5-0. Gourley was absent, and the seventh council seat is vacant.

 
 

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