Takes another step back on limiting authority of city manager over staff

The Scappoose City Council passed a motion Monday, Jan. 6, to not implement an earlier decision which would have required the city manager to seek an advisory vote from the council before making any hiring or firing decisions.

Many Scappoose residents turned out at the Monday meeting, criticizing the council’s initial decision to limit the city manager’s authority.

City Councilor Jason Meshell, after coming out of an executive session Monday, moved to halt the motion.

“I would like to make a motion to not implement a motion passed in special session on Jan. 2, based upon the new interim city manager’s thorough communication and commitment to work with the City Council,” he said.

Meshell moved Dec. 16 to require the city manager to seek a “binding” council vote before deciding to hire or fire staff. Upon finding the motion would have limited the city manager’s authority as defined in the city charter, the council voted Jan. 2 to amend the terminology and make its vote on such matters “advisory” only. The motion is now halted, but could be implemented later.

Don Otterman started as the city’s interim city manager Jan. 2 and will oversee efforts to hire a permanent city manager before his term expires.

The council also voted Monday to hire an independent company to handle most of the recruitment for the position, which Otterman estimated will cost the city approximately $15,000 to $20,000, plus expenses.

“I’ve got a list of recruitment companies that I put together and will hopefully, next week, put out our request for proposal,” Otterman said.

Although recruiting through an independent company wasn’t the city’s least expensive option, councilors liked the idea of having a bigger pool of potential hires to draw from.

“I’d rather spend more and go for a bigger net,” said Councilor Barbara Hayden.

Prior to a discussion revolving around the hiring of a new city manager, several members of the public commented on issues related to the council’s recent actions involving the position’s authority.

“This city has entered a multitude of inappropriate actions in representing the bodies that have elected them to office,” said Scappoose resident Bill Marinelli. Addressing Meshell, he continued, “One individual in particular has gone out of his way, in my opinion, to destroy the charter of this city. I understand that man is a lawyer and I understand that he is a good old boy.”

Meshell argued the council was trying to create a rule so that an interim city manager could not hire or fire employees at will with no repercussion.

“All we tried to do was prescribe a rule in the ordinance, not changing the charter ... and the first amendment that we made was that this rule will be temporary. The council will vote on whether to extend it or repeal it once we get our city manager.”

In Meshell’s original reading of the motion, he said the matter would have to be reviewed at the start of 2015 to determine if it should be renewed. Also, there was no distinction in Meshell’s original motion between the authority of an interim city manager and that of a permanent city manager.

Council President Larry Meres argued the council’s actions to adopt a rule limiting the city manager’s authority were not unusual.

“Looking at multiple city charters that I have piled through, what we were trying to do was prevent an interim city manager to be able to come in here and start firing and hiring without the consent of the council,” he said. “We don’t have that in our charter. Eventually it will come in our charter.”

Multiple audience members responded to Meres’ comment, saying, “When we vote on it.” Proposed revisions of the city charter are required to go through a public vote prior to adoption.

Former Council President Jeff Bernhard, who served nine years and was elected to two terms before deciding not to seek reelection in 2012, approached the council and read from a prepared statement.

“Nowhere in our charter does it give power to the council to perform administrative duties or even be in an advisory position,” he read. “This council again, without factual reason, has implemented an ordinance that contradicts the will and wishes of the voters. Even if you have the best intentions, it is making a mockery of what we hold most important in this county. ... that our vote counts.”

Scappoose resident Brady Preheim had harsher criticism for the councilors.

“You are an embarrassment to us. It’s embarrassing having my store in this town, and I’m very disappointed in all of you because you all look very foolish,” Preheim said, then motioned to Meshell. “You look really foolish ... If you are such an idiot that you are going to hire a person that you’re so terrified is going to come in and fire the entire city staff, then don’t hire him. Hire somebody else. Use your head and stop acting like a child and stop micro-managing people.”

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