Exclusive: Power Couples Working at Ashland City Hall

Chronicle Staff

 Ashland city government is chock full of staffers related by blood or marital status, many of whom hold positions in high places and draw big bucks in salary and benefits.

The most influential of these “power couples” is Adam and Cindy Hanks. Last month, Adam was promoted to interim city administrator, while Cindy is the deputy finance director. The couple receive about $430,000 a year in total compensation according to 2017 documents.

The acting finance director, Bryn Morrison, is married to Public Works Superintendent Mike Morrison.  They also take home more than $400,000 a year according to 2017 documents.

Human Resources Director Tina Gray is the wife of Phil Gray, a city policeman who is active in the police union.  Their combined pay and benefits well exceed $200,000 a year.

City Councilor Tanya Graham’s sister works for the fiber network. Since city councilors are unpaid, the Graham sisters are not among the top compensated city team.

Unlike many other governments, the city of Ashland does not list the pay of its employees by name, but my position.  For 2020, the total compensation for the city administrator is listed as $173,181, while the deputy finance director earns $112,578. The top finance job has a listed compensation of $143,995, while the public works superintendent gets $108,569.  The human resources director receives pay and benefits of $129,591, while the compensation for senior police officers ranges between $75,000 and $92,734.

It is not clear, however, if those moved into positions on an acting basis are being compensated at the top rates included in the city’s chart.

While the close relationships may raise some questions about potential job-related conflicts of interest, there does not appear to be anything preventing couples working closely together in city government.  Whether it causes any conflict at home is something else.

Oregon law bars a public employee from directly supervising a family member. Since Bryn Morrison, a close friend to Cindy, was promoted to interim finance director on the same day as Adam, she consequently she is Cindy’s direct supervisor. One city government source, who asked to be unnamed, said that many believe Cindy still has great influence in the city finance office.  “I have no doubt that that title [interim finance director] is in name only,” this person said.

The cushion of Bryn’s promotion does not guarantee that Adam and Cindy’s workplace relationship will be free of conflict.  As the interim city administrator, Adam has a key role in recommending his wife’s salary or how she might be treated in any city plan to furlough or lay off workers in response to the city’s current budget crisis.  And, in the unlikely situation of Cindy filing an employment grievance, under the city charter it would be the city administrator, her husband, who would oversee the grievance process.

The one case of the influence of these staffers holding interlocking positions that is often talked about in city government circles is the dismissal two years ago of then city administrator Dave Kanner by Mayor John Stromberg.

According to multiple sources who have asked to remain anonymous, Kanner opposed the mayor’s desire to promote Adam to assistant city administrator. As someone with nearly 30 years of experience in the Ashland city government, Adam had the strong support of many in the city’s middle management as well as that of Mayor Stromberg.

The tense situation led to a group of city officials saying they couldn’t work for Kanner, which the mayor used as a reason for dismissing him just months before his contract expired.  The mayor’s decision was backed by the City Council on a 4 to 2 vote.

For his part, Kanner believes his dismissal was largely due to his move to steer a portion of meals tax revenues to repair city streets, which the mayor initially opposed.   The redirection of these funds was approved by city voters in 2016.  The issue is moot today due to the sharp drop off in revenue from the meals tax, leaving no money for street improvements.

In either case, it was after Kanner’s departure that Adam’s rise in city government moved quickly, first he was promoted to the number two position in the city’s administration office.  And, when Kelly Madding, Kanner’s fulltime successor, suddenly resigned this winter, Adam moved up to the top post.

Cindy and Adam have both dedicated a large portion of their lives to the city.  When asked about them,  former City Recorder Barbara Christianson stated, “Though I believe these situations should be known about and transparent, I believe [Adam and Cindy] have the city’s best interest at heart.”  

The Ashland Chronicle Staff

Oregon Anti-Nepotism Law  –  These “power couples” have not broken any state laws.

Although Oregon anti-nepotism law does not prevent couples from working in the same governmental agencies, human resources experts give a number of sound reasons for anti-nepotism rules and “no fraternization” policies including:

  • avoiding involvement in emotional problems at the home
  • avoiding supervisory conflicts between spouses and relatives
  • avoiding hiring decisions based on favoritism or the appearance of favoritism
  • avoiding vacation and day off scheduling problems
  • avoiding family influence regarding grievances and work conflicts. 

A thoughtful “anti-nepotism” policy allows the employment of family members while avoiding the common operational issues associated with such situations.

2017 Document referenced above – http://www.ashland.or.us/files/May_25_Budget_Committee_Packet.pdf