Gladstone councilors opposed investigating one of their own
Investigating alleged workplace intimidation against a city administrator in Oregon relies on cooperation from the city's fellow elected officials, newly released documents reveal.
Two elected officials had opposed an investigation when a fellow Gladstone elected official reportedly used his position to attempt to gain a professional advantage over the city administrator's selection of a consultant, during an unscheduled one-on-one meeting in her office.
Faced with an appeal by Pamplin Media Group to the district attorney, Gladstone city councilors voted Aug. 10 to release the documents related to last summer's complaint against Councilor Matt Tracy. Gladstone's vote in favor of transparency avoids spending taxpayer dollars toward legal expenses in which the city attorney would have told the DA why the city thinks citizens shouldn't have access to public records.
Two elected officials' newly released emails to the city attorney show they had actively opposed the city's formal investigation into the complaint against Tracy. Former City Councilor Tom Mersereau said he opposed even an initial executive session to consider an investigation into Tracy's conduct until Tracy could meet again with the city's administrator whom he allegedly had berated just days earlier.
"I suggest Councilor Tracy and Administrator Betz first have a discussion to sort out their concerns in the near future," Mersereau said. "If agreed, I would suggest a councilor or two, of Matt's and Jacque's choice be listeners."
Former City Councilor Linda Neace, who also stepped down from public office at the end of 2020, supported the stance of facilitated "mediations" rather than an investigation into Tracy's behavior and a potential reprimand. Neace suggested that she and Mersereau would be the best choices for mediators.
"I feel Tom and I would not be bias (sic), and I think they both have respect for us," Neace wrote.
Gladstone Mayor Tammy Stempel said the incident was a glaring example of a pattern of questionable behavior by the city's elected officials that went uninvestigated.
In 2019, Neace was accused of not living in the city she had been representing, but the allegation didn't merit further inquiry according to a majority of her fellow elected officials. Mersereau, along with two other elected officials who were later recalled by voters, was caught on camera in 2017 meeting with a quorum of the City Council at a Gladstone bar, but they faced no consequences for an apparent violation of Oregon open-meetings law.
"In the past, elected officials have done a very good job not holding themselves accountable," Stempel said.
Given the issues with getting city councilors to police themselves, Stempel has suggested creating an oversight board of citizen volunteers who can give an initial review of complaints against elected officials.
Amid the initial request to city councilors, Tracy obtained a copy of Betz's complaint by telling the city attorney that he would not be able to adequately defend himself from accusations without it.
Under the municipal code, Tracy said he would be "responding" to the concerns of the City Council and not necessarily to a formal complaint from the city administrator.
"I disagree with how the conversation is characterized in the complaint and feel subjective assertions about how I might feel or what I might do don't warrant a violation of the Council Rules or the City of Gladstone Personnel Policy Manual," Tracy wrote to the city attorney.
Stempel and Gladstone City Councilor Neal Reisner were the only two elected officials who supported an investigation into Tracy's conduct.
"I believe the Council needs to have this investigated and then address this so if we need to start in executive session, then I highly support having an executive session," Reisner wrote to the city attorney.
"I also feel strongly that the complaint filed by Jacque Betz needs to be investigated," Stempel wrote.
Tracy wasn't given the option to support or oppose his own investigation, so four city councilors out of the remaining six were necessary to proceed. The elected officials who remained silent on the issue last summer were Councilors Tracy Todd and Randy Ripley.
Stempel said she made her views on the complaint clear to Betz throughout the process and believes other councilors did the same, since they converse frequently with Betz by telephone. Stempel said that after hearing various councilors were either opposed to the investigation or remaining silent, Betz would have had no choice but to attempt to make amends with Tracy.
"I have heard from a few of you that you desire to schedule an executive session, a few who did not indicate a desire for an executive session, and I did not hear back from a few of you as well," the city attorney wrote on Aug. 4.
While Betz did not receive this email from the city attorney, she may have heard some of its contents, since on Aug. 6, she notified the attorney that the complaint had been resolved.
"Councilor Matt Tracy and I have been able to work through my concerns expressed from the incident that occurred a couple of weeks ago," Betz wrote. "We have both come to an agreement on how we can productively improve our communications and move forward for the betterment of Gladstone."
Betz has declined further comment until the results of a council-ordered investigation into the initial records leak. The city is paying an investigator $250 per hour for an indefinite period to research how Bill Osburn, who was removed as a city advisory board member by a 6-1 council vote on July 13, may have obtained some of the public records associated with the complaint against Tracy. The investigator got a late start on scheduling interviews due to a family emergency.
Throughout Oregon, city and county managers and administrators report directly to their governing boards, who have the power to fire them and act as their direct supervisors. While state law offers employees various protections against retaliation when reporting alleged harassment of a direct supervisor, the law is less clear when it comes to harassment by a member of a supervising governing board.
Workplace harassment has been a frequent topic for the International City/County Management Association, which is having its worldwide conference in Portland later this year.
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