Public works director resigns to take position in Washington
Longtime Newberg Public Works Director Jay Harris left the employ of the city of Newberg in early April to take a similar post in Shelton, Washington, a town of about 10,000 residents northwest of Olympia.
Harris' ancestral family farm is located nearby, a release from the city said, and his hiring there "allows preparation of the property for his eventual retirement."
Harris was hired as city engineer in January 2012 and was promoted to public works director in August 2014. In the release, city officials ticked off some of his accomplishments during his eight-year term in office, including securing funding for city projects that range from an $899,000 grant for seismic upgrades to the Public Safety Building to a $250,000 Solar Clean Energy Development Grant from the state.
Harris was responsible for melding the city's water, wastewater, maintenance and engineering departments into one unit that allowed coordination on "projects, plans, communications, transparency and training," the release said, highlighting among others the city's establishment of long-range water rights.
Harris was well known as an ambassador for the city, often showing off the city to citizens, journalists and others.
"Harris is best known for his collaboration with all staff from city managers to the newest entry-level employee," the release said. "Every new hire got a personal tour of Newberg to improve knowledge about all the diverse functions and programs."
He encouraged city employees to reach out to public schools and colleges to inform on storm water, engineering and sustainability efforts, the release said, and was the city's primary advocate for emergency preparedness. He also was known for encouraging his cohorts to continuing training so they could apply for internal openings "as they could be the next city leader," adding that "at the end of the day we are in service to the community and each other."
Russ Thomas, the city's longtime public works maintenance superintendent, will serve as interim director of the department while the city mounts a search for a permanent successor.
"During his time with the city, Jay Harris established a foundation for the Newberg Public Works Department, with decisions based on the needs of the community, sound financial basics and a vison for the future, that will help guide the continued growth and success of the department and city for many years to come," Thomas said.
Harris' term in office wasn't without controversy, however. He was among a number of city officials named in a complaint by Brittney Jeffries, now a member of the city's IT department, in a complaint filed in December with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. Jeffries' complaint, which is still being investigated by BOLI, claims that her allegations of sexual harassment at the hands of an engineer under Harris' supervision, Kaaren Hoffman, fell on deaf ears and Harris failed to take action to thwart Hoffman.
An investigation commissioned by the city found that Harris took appropriate action once he learned of the alleged harassment, including speaking with other city officials about how to best approach the issue, increased his supervision of the engineering department, searched Hoffman's desk for inappropriate books and consulted with Jeffries on how best to deal with the situation.
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