Gresham Fire Chief alleges scapegoating as resignation spur
Gresham Fire Chief Mitch Snyder, who unexpectedly submitted a letter of resignation earlier this month, has pointed to unprofessional conduct by the City Manager's Office, serious budget woes that have gone ignored, and a scapegoating campaign as the reasons he is leaving an organization he could "no longer in good conscience be a part of."
In a resignation letter penned to Gresham City Council, acquired by The Outlook through a public records request, Snyder wrote that many of his reasons for resigning center around Deputy City Manager Corey Falls. His final day is Friday, May 6, as the city is beginning a transition to install Scott Lewis as interim chief.
"We are really thankful for the service of all of our firefighters, they are the ones doing the hard work every day," said Gresham City Manager Nina Vetter. "And we are thankful for the leadership Scott Lewis brings to the organization."
Snyder, 58, wrote of being ignored and undermined, and highlighted a two-pronged campaign allegedly conducted by Falls to discredit the outgoing chief in the eyes of Gresham City Council. Upon being hired in 2019, Falls remarked Snyder was chosen in part because of his "history of building strong community partnerships" and "leading with honor and respect."
"It has become clear to me (…) that Deputy Falls does not, in fact, value those leadership aspects," Snyder wrote in his letter. "Instead he prefers an organizational structure that allows him to flex his authority while at the same time deflecting criticism to make deficiencies in the City Manager's Office appear to be the responsibility and fault of others around him."
This is the second high-profile employee to cite issues with Deputy Manager Falls as their predominant reason for resigning. Former Police Chief Robin Sells resigned in 2021 after a third-party investigation highlighted a hostile work environment for Falls within the Gresham Police Department under her direction.
"I am not resigning voluntarily, but as a direct result of the city's choice to release a deeply flawed report without affording me due process," Sells wrote.
That investigation, conducted by Barran Liebman LLP at the direction of the City Council, sought to weigh dueling complaints filed by Chief Sells and Deputy City Manager Falls against one another. The findings leaned heavily in favor of Falls, a Black man attempting to implement new programs within the city, and citing a pattern of hostility, scorn and attempts to undermine his authority.
Snyder's complaints are focused on the budget shortfall within Gresham Fire and Emergency Services, and Fall's alleged attempts to "shift blame."
In a press release, the city of Gresham pushed back against Synder's allegations, stating they did not tell a "full or accurate story." The city of Gresham stated support for Deputy Falls, pointing to his track record of serving with the "utmost integrity providing fiscal responsibility and leadership" since being hired in 2017.
In his letter, Snyder cited facing a $2.4 million shortfall in his four-year tenure — a number disputed by the city of Gresham.
The outgoing chief has warned that the current levels of service cannot continue at this level of funding, and that cuts are needed to stay within budget.
"Those warnings have fallen on deaf ears, and the city has continued to direct (Gresham Fire) to spend beyond its budget," Snyder wrote.
City leadership said it was unclear how Chief Snyder arrived at the $2.4 million gap in funds.
"The narrative is based on (Snyder's) perception the fire department is not receiving enough resources," Vetter said. "The city as a whole is facing financial challenges and a majority of our departments do not have the resources they need to provide services for the community."
According to the city, for Fiscal Year 2020/21, the Fire Department was directed to stay within the adopted budget allocation while including any unplanned expenses. The fire department ended the year $119,957 over budget. The city said the Fire Department is trending to be over budget this year by about $400,000.
The city has also allocated $1.54 million to Gresham Fire from American Rescue Plan Act funds, and approved a supplemental budget that included $456,000 to hold a fire academy to recruit new firefighters.
Snyder said whenever he has brought up budget concerns with Falls, or gone straight to City Council, he has been reprimanded. Last year Snyder wrote he was concerned the City Manager's office was misrepresenting the state of the Fire Budget to Gresham City Council, and that Falls allegedly began a two-pronged campaign to discredit him.
In October 2021, Falls presented Chief Snyder with an investigation notice about the department's lack of COVID-19 protocol compliance, including not following mask mandates.
"The vague allegations and entire investigation were a sham without any merit whatsoever," Snyder wrote.
In December 2021, Falls sent a letter to Snyder expressing concerns the chief continued to raise worries about the budget shortfall with city officials. Falls allegedly accused Snyder of not understanding how a city budget works, that the chief was responsible for the under-funded budget in Fiscal Year 2020/21, and that Snyder was spreading an "inaccurate narrative" around the funding woes.
"It became clear to me that Deputy Falls simply wanted me to be quiet about my concerns (…) and his goal was to set me up to fail," Snyder wrote. "I decline to be silent. (Gresham Fire) is underfunded."
Deputy Falls is leading the city's effort to craft a three-year operational plan. Falls has allegedly been a strong advocate to council for additional resources for fire, police and human resources. The plan, for which the city is attempting to identify funding, includes the proposed addition of 12 firefighters.
Snyder said that while the City Manager's office has continued to assure council that no service cuts will be needed, it is allegedly negotiating with the Gresham Professional Firefighters Local 1062 about what upcoming service cuts would look like.
The city agreed it has been in communication with the fire union because of contract renegotiations, but did not confirm those talks touched on service cuts.
"I no longer wish to be a part of a city management structure that both actively withholds relevant information from the governing body and then attempts to discredit a decorated city leader when he raises issues and concerns," Snyder wrote. "I refuse to be scapegoated internally for any of those issues."
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