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'No cause' terminations of at-will employees are typically used when there has not been any failure in job performance

We don't know where everyone was last week on Jan. 6 but if you were anywhere in the city of West Linn you may have heard a loud grinding sound at about 5:30 p.m.

That sound was our city council going off the rails.

The setting was rife with drama. The seating area for citizens was self-sorted into pro-council majority folks and anti-council majority citizens, like a twisted groom/bride's side of a church set-up.  Faces were set into hard lines as the council prepared to do what it had come to do: terminate the employment of its city manager. The action came as no shock: it's been clear since Councilors Cummings and Sakelik took office in 2017 and realized that City Manager Stein did not support their determination to wrest all control of city legal services from city manager purview that they had her in their cross-hairs.

What was shocking was the timing: To the best of our knowledge, the only misstep worth noting that Stein has taken in three years of serving the city was in 2018 when she failed to warn councilors that they should not use an executive session to discuss the contract/performance of the city attorney. It's impossible to know if that incident is the only damning item on Stein's council-conducted performance review because they have failed to make the review public or give reasons for the termination — citing privacy rules.

"No cause" terminations of at-will employees are typically used when there has not been any failure in job performance but there is a fundamental conflict between employee and employer. 

The council majority's determined persecution of Stein seems to be less performance-based than it is one of control, as they've consistently blamed her for everything short of global warming and world hunger. No doubt these councilors will not be happy with any city manager unless they find one who has no independent thought. 

On Jan. 6 the intensity of the engine-plunging-off-the-tracks-into-the ravine sound began about 30 minutes into the council meeting, when 89-year-old West Linn citizen Alice Richmond stood to testify and Councilor Relyea requested she be forcefully removed from the meeting for what he deemed threatening the council.

There's been a lot of discussion about what did and did not happen at the meeting and what was justified and what was not, so we revisited the video recording to document it. And we should preface this with the disclaimer that Richmond had submitted an op-ed to the Tidings earlier in the week that covered many of her testimony's points — a submission the Tidings declined to publish due to its failure to meet our standards. Also, a transcription of Richmond's impassioned testimony is further challenged by the fact that she is not a native English speaker and her words can sometimes be difficult to discern.

But here it is, and readers can decide for themselves if Richmond was out of line:

Richmond: This is a surprise (Stein's termination) to see this because I turned in my statement in the newspaper — where it's going to go much farther than this room — about you three people. And yet I see that one of trio that is also the poison in West Linn, hasn't come in here and I hope to hear that because he was sick or there was a very drastic thing why he did not come tonight. (Councilor Rich Sakelik attended the meeting via phone).

It's become very tiresome to read about you three people, nastiness in the paper or hearing them in conversation. And now there's another person in this game and it's Karie Oakes. I read her article in the paper and she is over here, and I hope she hears this. You're trying to disrupt the city. You guys are accusing us to separate the city but you have segregated worse than anywhere in the world discrimination I have heard. Just because it doesn't go your way, you don't like what you hear. You guys probably don't hear what you are saying or the way you act but it's not only shameful — It's an insult to our democracy that you guys don't even understand that the city attorney belongs to the staff. We voted even and yet you guys have the ____  to tell us we don't understand and we are misinformed. Where in the hell do you think you are going with this assumption that West Linn residents are ignorant about things? We've been very peaceful so far and certainly for two years you didn't have me in here and you're lucky I was out of order but it is very…"

At this point Relyea interrupted, insisting on a point of order from Mayor Axelrod, saying "Miss Richmond cannot appear before us and threaten us and make comments regarding being peaceful or being revolutionary. Please ask for her to be removed."

Axelrod chided Richmond and asked her to remain civil in her testimony. Richmond replied that she thought she was civil but added "I am not the only one in the city. Unless something happens with this trio something drastic is going to evolve."

At this point Relyea spoke up again, "Mr. Mayor I ask that you have Miss Richmond curtail her comments about actions her and her comrades are planning on taking against the council" telling Richmond "You do not have the right to speak about revolutionary actions or threatening actions against the government."

When Axelrod said what he heard was a citizen complaining, not threatening, Relyea rejoined: "Because you have selective hearing."

In the end Richmond discontinued her testimony and she was not removed from council chambers, but the incident does give pause. Is telling a controversial city councilor "something drastic is going to evolve" a threat of revolution or physical harm? Or has the embattled council majority become so sensitive to backlash from the community that it feels intimidated by a senior citizen who does not top 5 feet in height?

Perhaps, what Richmond was "threatening" was the action available to voters in a democracy: mobilizing the citizenry to remove from office elected officials who are failing to act in the best interest of the majority of the populace.

How revolutionary.


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