Chronicle Staff: Recent City Hall Resignations Amid Code of Conduct Violations

A recent string of resignations at Ashland’s City Hall is raising questions and the temperature between councilors who are stuck in dialogue about what or who is to blame.

In recent weeks the interim city manager, city attorney and finance director all announced they’d be leaving.

City Attorney Dave Lohman leaves on July 1 and has already been succeeded by Interim City Attorney Katrina Brown who worked for him.

Finance Director Melanie Purcell announced her resignation timed to coincide with that of Interim City Manager Adam Hanks for August 6th. Her position sat vacant for some time before coming to Ashland where she worked for ten months. Two finance employees with long tenures remain.

A special meeting has been called by the mayor in order to get a process started to fill the interim city manager job. No word yet on the finance director.

Councilors Tonya Graham, who was defeated in her campaign for mayor in November of 2020, and Steve Jensen both claim the departures “sit squarely at the feet of Mayor Akins and two councilors.”

They claim staff has been treated poorly by the three. Graham’s sister is a city employee.

Jensen has admitted to a history of rancor in an email sent to the mayor and obtained by The Chronicle. “For my part, I was over-zealous in my support of Tonya with several rash forays into the public sphere that should have been avoided, especially as a sitting councilor” said Jensen shortly after the November election.

The recent in fighting comes shortly after a special meeting to create a Code of Conduct called by Councilor Jensen and Councilor Paula Hyatt. The code bans personal attacks and demands respect and mutual trust.

When asked about the code in connection to recent statements by Jensen and Graham in connection with the resignations, Jensen said the rules no longer apply referring to the vacancies as a crisis. He told a local publication, “The lifeboats are out” referring to the staffers leaving.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Mayor Julie Akins, “We’re trying to hire an interim city manager. With all this hysteria and blaming it makes the job more difficult. I’d prefer council work together to solve problems as opposed to finger pointing. But we’ll get the job done and the city will move forward. My predecessor had four administrators in six years and frequent resignations. It wasn’t a crisis then and it’s not now. It’s work to be done. I suggest we do it.”

Akins denies the resignations and retirement are because of her or DuQuenne or Moran.

“As to claims we’re somehow responsible–I am but only in the sense that I’m not the former mayor, John Stromberg, who was on the job twelve years.  Whenever there’s a new perspective, some people leave. This happens in businesses, non profits and cities. Our city is suffering after the pandemic and the Almeda fire, none of this easy. Sometimes people quit when it’s hard. But no one quit because of a general policy statement about not raising utility fees and watching out for a structural deficit which I’ve held for years.”

In fact, the city council on a vote of four to two passed a budget of 348 million dollars and raised utility fees which go into effect on July 1st. It also gave cost of living increases of 2% to top staff.

“I can’t see how we can give raises to staff when there are people who have lost their jobs and businesses in the pandemic” said Moran.

DuQuenne remarked, “Im here to get the job done for the people. The budget process was disappointing but I’m keeping it moving. We need to get an interim city manager hired. We don’t have time for all this back and forth.”

Background:

The first to announce his departure was City Attorney Dave Lohman. Lohman has worked for the City of Ashland for ten years. He was personally hired by former mayor John Stromberg who referred to him as not only the city attorney but as “my personal consigliere” It was, according to Stromberg, a close personal relationship. When Stromberg left, Lohman left a few months later. He did not resign, but retired from the city. Lohman is in his 70’s.

There is also a looming lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, pending against the city for alleged discrimination regarding the police and their arrest of OSF actor Tony Sancho.

Sancho was walking home after a performance and donor party and admits to being intoxicated, which is not illegal. When stopped by police, according to Sancho, he was handcuffed and arrested without explanation.

He was later taken to the Jackson County Jail where he was handcuffed to a urine grate, according to the ACLU and video footage released to the press.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s department is also being sued.

Given that Lohman was already planning to retire, this pending suit may have had something to do with the timing, according to those close to the case.

Next was 30 year veteran Adam Hanks who has held numerous positions since starting with the city as a 19 year old college freshman. His latest job was in the top spot as interim city manager.

Hanks has not spoken to the media about his decision to resign. But according to Akins, He’s leaving due to a hiring process that has dragged on and working extremely long hours. 

“He, [Hanks] told me in a recent conversation that he’s been working 6.5 days per week for 14 months and that he literally has no time to do anything else. He said it’s become too much.”

Melanie Purcell resigned as Finance Director after serving in Ashland for ten months. While her resignation gave no specifics as to her reasons for leaving, there appears a pattern of short stays. Her average tenure, according to her resume which is a public record, is roughly 2.5 years. It was a contentious budget cycle which Purcell oversaw with a “structural deficit.”

The other recent concern as expressed by Councilors Jensen and Graham surround the recruitment process for hiring the city manager. The first recruiter from Peckham and McKenny quit prior to finishing the job.

They stated that a new vendor contract which demanded Oregon registration “didn’t fit our business plan. Most our work is in California and Colorado.” A long list of reasons for leaving attributed to the recruiter and read into the record by Councilor Paula Hyatt was not written by the recruiter, The Chronicle has learned. According to emails obtained, it was a compilation of observations by the city’s human resources department.

The second recruiter left because council could not give clear direction as to the requirements for a city manager and she found the process too difficult.

A special meeting has been called for Tuesday, June 29 at 5 pm to determine next steps in hiring an interim city manager.  A regular meeting for July 6th will also discuss the mayor’s plan for recruitment. Adam Hanks departure date is set for August 6th.

Chronicle Staff

//inserted by Sharon