City of West Linn parts ways with city manager
After a dozen residents admonished the decision to terminate City Manager Eileen Stein's contract without cause, the West Linn City Council voted 3-2 to do just that at a meeting Jan. 6.
The people packing the council chambers were not unanimously against the decision to part ways with Stein. Of the 16 citizens who gave comment at Monday's meeting, four applauded the council majority — Teri Cummings, Rich Sakelik and Bill Relyea — for their decision.
"I expect you have very good reasons to terminate the employment contract of City Manager Eileen Stein as this decision comes on the heels of you completing the evaluation of her job performance," Karie Oakes testified at the meeting.
Ed Schwarz told the council that he was part of the citizen group involved in the hiring of Stein three and a half years ago. At the time, he said, he was concerned that Stein had only managed smaller cities like Sisters and Mt. Angel. Schwarz said he saw his concerns validated within a year of Stein's hiring.
The 12 citizens voicing their opposition to terminating Stein's contract expressed concern about the cost to do so as well as the lack of transparency for the process leading up to Monday's vote.
"This entire process has been shameful, and does great damage to the City of West Linn," Abby Farber said. Farber and others conjectured that the total cost of terminating Stein's contract would be well over $100,000. Stein will be paid around $75,000 in severance pay plus continuation of COBRA coverage. Several citizens also presumed the City will also pay a recruitment firm to help with the search of Stein's replacement.
"You councilors voting to terminate Ms. Stein owe it to the citizens and taxpayers of West Linn to explain your reasons for terminating her employment as city manager," Bruce Johnson said. "It must be a good reason and not just a personal reason. The citizens deserve to have their money well-spent and not wasted on personal disagreements."
Many in opposition to the termination of Stein's employment also expressed concern about how it would affect West Linn's regional reputation.
Still, these concerns did not seem to dismay the council majority, who appeared to have made up their minds prior to a Dec.18 executive session in which they brought the idea to the other two members of the council and Stein herself.
Though several citizens asked the councilors to explain their reasoning behind the decision, the majority maintained that they would not give any justification out of respect for Stein's privacy.
"I'm very sorry that we're not able to talk about any reasons why," Cummings said. "Termination without cause precludes that we do that. It's what you do to respect the privacy of the person involved. We won't be able to explain that to you and I know that's hard for everybody."
It is not known whether the council majority gave any reasoning to Stein herself, as this termination was without cause.
Mayor Russ Axelrod and Councilor Jules Walters remained adamantly opposed to Stein's termination, and thanked her for her service to the City.
"She has high ethical standards. She cares sincerely about City staff and our community issues and interests and she has demonstrated sound fiscal management practices to accomplish as much as possible within the constrained fiscal realities of our tight city budget," the mayor said. "For now, I will simply say that I am deeply disappointed in losing Ms. Stein in the manner it's been implemented and also the timing of this termination after we've made significant investments in Ms. Stein and the council's efforts in working together."
Axelrod also said he was concerned about how the City's regional partners would view this separation.
"(Prior to the Dec. 18 executive session) the mayor and I weren't even allowed to know, first who the staff member was that this meeting was about, nor were we given any information about what was to happen," Walters said. "This gives me grave concern about moving forward and what the work of this council is going to look like moving forward."
Stein came to West Linn in June 2016 following the resignation of longtime City Manager Chris Jordan, who was unpopular with several members of the then-City Council.
In her time with West Linn, Stein saw the passage of a $20 million GO Bond and helped secure $6 million in funding for a project to improve Highway 43, though the past three and a half years have not been without controversy.
Cummings, Relyea and Sakelik often found fault with Stein's management of the City, particularly regarding use and authority over the city attorney.
They also repeatedly expressed deep concern for the fact that she did not properly notify councilors and the city attorney of an executive session in October 2018, which led to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission finding Axelrod and two former councilors in violation of executive session laws.
Deputy City Manager John Williams will fill in as City Manager while the City figures out its plan to replace Stein.
"I've enjoyed my employment here," Stein told the Tidings earlier this week. "I'm confident that staff will keep up the good work and serve the citizens as they have in a professional manner."
She was not at Monday's meeting.
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