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Oakridge City Council regular session 7/20: Conflict of interest in question over steep stipend increases

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By PAUL SCOTT & GEORGE CUSTER/ for The Herald  —  It was a good night to attend the City Council meeting if you like some elbow room.  With only 3 council members at the dais, (two on Zoom) and a small crowd, it’s clear that summer has its grip on our family activities.

Formal complaints fall on deaf ears for city cleanup

A bit of ‘irregular’ business opened the meeting with public comments by Oakridge citizen Wayne Hall.  Hall has been asking for any help possible from the city to remove the trash, trailer, misc. health hazards including human waste, from the property adjacent to his home on Y Dr.  It was difficult to hear what he faced although he eventually was able to clear the trailer and most of the trash at his own cost.

Mr. Hall and neighbors had tried every avenue that the city had suggested to him, including formal complaints, yet little corrective action had been taken for months.   (Owners of this property have also been responsible for fires that required city services to extinguish)

What questions does that raise in the readers mind as to the responsibility, of any community, to have some control on the care and maintenance of private property within city boundaries?  Where do the rights of the individual need to be negotiated with the community?

A positive note of celebration. A respected member of our community, Chris Winchester as been appointed to the Administration Advisory Committee and received wide support for his experience and knowledge.

The Keg and Cask Festival requested support of $6,500 from the RTMP fund.   Only $2,494.90 was available and awarded to the festival. By regulation of the RTMP Fund, this amount can’t exceed $1000 for the K&C in future years.

A letter of support is being sent to the Forest Service for their efforts to change selected disbursed camping sites from overnight stays to ‘day use’ only.  Currently transient campers are trashing many of these sites. All council members available voted in support.

Stipend increases for volunteers just coming to light

There was tension in the previous council meeting by questions raised by Mayor Cutchen, regarding a significant raise in the stipend (by %) for volunteers at the Oakridge Fire department.  Councilor Hollett  questioned the appropriateness of the request.

Thursday evening Mayor Cutchen said that his request was out of order, as the budgets had already been approved, and that spending was at the discretion of the Chief, not himself.   He was willing to drop the request. The requested questions can be found at the end of this article *

Responses to mayor’s questions read aloud

Councilor Hollett requested the responses to the Mayor’s questions be read aloud. Administrator Clevenger did an outstanding job of supporting the mayor’s request for information.  The report appeared positive in the initial results particular with the number of applications for new trainees.

Councilor Kenyon pointed out that the raises that Councilor Hollett will receive are not based on any family association, but are identical to the pay received by any volunteer with certified qualifications equal to Hollett’s.

The Oregon State’s chapter 244.20 on government ethics states:

     (1) “Actual conflict of interest” means any action or any decision or recommendation by a person acting in a capacity as a public                  official, the effect of which would be to the private pecuniary benefit or detriment of the person or the person’s relative or any business         with which the person or a relative of the person is associated unless the pecuniary benefit or detriment arises out of circumstances              described in subsection (13) of this section. 

    With regards to the above, subsection (13) states: 

   Any action in the person’s official capacity which would affect to the same degree a class consisting of all inhabitants of the state, or a           smaller class consisting of an industry, occupation or other group including one of which or in which the person, or the person’s relative     or business with which the person or the person’s relative is associated, is a member or is engaged.

Subsection 13 allows for Chief Hollett to give a raise in pay to his wife who is a stipend volunteer with the fire department. All persons of the same rating will receive the increase equally.

Citizen dollars: Conflicts of interest should be avoided whenever possible

In admitting that the request made during the council session was out of order, Mayor Cutchen said his background in public service was to show any potential conflict of interest that could influence an executive decision.  To his credit, he suggest that the process for ‘disclosure’ could use clarity in writing. He believes that another member of the department should have worked with the CA to determine the increases in the stipend amounts to avoid any possible appearance of conflict of interest by the chief.

* Questioned posed to the City Administrator during council session 7/6:

1. I have recently become aware of an increase in Fire Department Volunteer Stipend Pay, specifical

          a. Driver/FF/EMR qualified – a 20% increase from $100 for 24 hours to $120.00

          b. EMT/A-EMT – a 50% increase from $100 to $150.

          c. EMT-I/Paramedic – an 80% increase to $180.

     2. I would like to request some information from staff to better understand the increase:

         a. When was the decision made?

         b. What process and rationale were used to arrive at the decision?

         c. What people were involved in making the decision?

        d. Did any city employees or elected officials involved in making the decision or their immediate family members gain financially from the decision?

       e. Have the results from the decision achieved its objectives?

      f. With regards to volunteer affiliation:

                       i. How many applications have been received over the past 12 months?

                      ii. How many of the applicants were interviewed?

                     iii. Of those interviewed, how many were selected to join the department?

Full minutes of these meeting can be found on the City of Oakridge web website.

Born 1953, Portland, Paul Scott graduated from North Eugene HS.
He attended William Penn College, receiving a BA: Psychology/Counseling, Sociology, MIS. He now lives in Oakridge with his wife, Marty. Paul and Marty have three adult children.

 

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