Poor treatment or high expectations spur Oregon City departures?
A series of recent departures by Oregon City staffers has raised questions among citizens and elected officials. They are wondering whether there's anything the city could be doing to prevent the loss of so many of its employees to nearby jurisdictions.
Some OC employees may have simply found higher paying jobs with more responsibility elsewhere. Examples include this month's departure of OC Aquatics and Recreation Manager Rochelle Anderholm-Parsch to become the city of Sandy's Parks and Recreation director, along with OC's Finance Director Wyatt Parno last year taking on a South Fork Water leadership position.
In a special case from this September, OC lost its city planner, Pete Walter, who was most experienced in issues related to trees when he took a job as an urban forester in Portland. OC commissioners have been for years discussing the possibility of creating an urban-forester position.
Mayor Rachel Lyles Smith said that employees who "left for great career opportunities" only tells part of the story behind OC's series of recent staff departures. In a Facebook comment, she said that other staff members, including Community Development Director Laura Terway and City Recorder Kattie Riggs, left "because of how staff are treated by the (City) Commission and the public."
Lyles Smith declined to comment beyond the Facebook posting for this news story, but Riggs said that the mayor had correctly identified an issue resulting from OC's elected officials. Riggs declined to name specific commissioners or incidents, but she confirmed that OC's elected commission was a big factor in her decision to seek employment elsewhere.
"I got tired of sitting there and watching how commissioners treat staff," Riggs said. "They've sucked the life out of not only the city manager, but also several staff members. They've been torn down time and time again. It's embarrassing that any one individual that would treat any other individual that way, and the commissioners don't always assume a positive intent."
Commissioners' concerns about city-planning staff allegedly favoring developers over citizens recently led to an internal investigation that found city employees had not been biased. However, Terway and City Planner Kelly Reid faced disciplinary action for their failure to consult the city attorney prior to the June 2 City Commission meeting regarding when a land-use notice should be sent.
While he declined to discuss specific incidents or staff members, City Commissioner Frank O'Donnell said that "there have been some concerns about key omissions of specifics and the balance of information provided by staff."
When faced with seemingly missing or imbalanced information provided by city employees, O'Donnell explained, commissioners can experience unnecessary challenges for their decision-making process. He also suggested that the current group of elected officials might be more demanding of city employees than in previous years.
"The current commission is thorough and detail oriented," he said. "It expects excellence from its highly compensated staff when making decisions that affect the community and citizens."
Riggs' advice to commissioners included helping keep decorum and refine staff proposals in one-on-one conversations, rather than in recorded public meetings.
"I couldn't stand sitting through more and more meetings where they spent time tearing staff down rather than make decisions in a more productive way," she said. "It's OK to ask really difficult questions, but you shouldn't do it at the last minute when staff are speaking in public."
Some city employees who are leaving say that they've enjoyed their time in OC.
In order to take a planning manager job in Happy Valley, Terway is resigning her position as director of OC's Community Development Department, which processes planning permits, inspects buildings and holds land-use hearings as needed.
Terway will be taking a pay cut working for Happy Valley compared to Oregon City, where her last day is Nov. 10. Her position in OC had a pay scale that topped out at $143,028, while her Happy Valley position tops out just under $120,000 annually.
Terway said that taking the job in Happy Valley has personal benefits for her and her family.
"I am looking forward to supporting the community of Happy Valley on a variety of important projects as well as an opportunity to spend more time with my family," she said. "It has been a pleasure working at Oregon City for the past 18 years. The amazing friendships and thoughtfulness that I have experienced throughout the organization and within the community are invaluable."
Matthew Weintraub, who led OC's tourism program from 2019 until his departure this month, echoed Terway's statement about the joy of working for the city. Tendering his resignation effective Nov. 2 in OC, he accepted a position as deputy administrator of the Nevada Division of Outdoor Recreation in Reno.
"I greatly enjoyed my time here at the city of Oregon City and will miss working alongside the many exceptional and dedicated public servants at the city," Weintraub said.
The news story was updated on Nov. 5 to add the information about the position Matthew Weintraub accepted in Nevada.
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