The City of Oakridge Oregon is the most recent small city struggling with governmental issues. The most recent City of Oakridge council meeting seemed to outline one major issue is rogue employee’s. City of Oakridge HR staff filed a complaint on an Oakridge Citizen with the Oregon State Bar implicating the City was behind the complaint. The new City of Oakridge Attorney made a statement that in no way does the city wish to be linked to the complaint, the implication of the complaint being from the City of Oakridge was done falsely. Will this land the HR in hot water?
From a terminated City Administrator Louis Gomez still embroiled in ethics violations continued to be investigated by DOJ, to the newest controversy the Interim City Administrator Philip Messina leaving abruptly with no notice. Oakridge seems to almost be having continuous city council meetings according to video recordings on Facebook and Youtube trying to fix the issue there seems to be people in play delaying any progress to move the city forward, including the Mayor.
It was unusual to find that Oakridge Chat Forum Facebook page is always the choice to host the live version instead of the other popular Oakridge Facebook page titled Oakridge Politics which would seem more appropriate. But, citizens cleared this up with this explanation: Chrissy Hollett owns the Facebook page, she is an Oakridge City Councilor and a friend of Melissa Bjarnson. The two worked together volunteering for the Oakridge Fire Department. Oakridge citizen Melissa Bjarnson usually does the live feed to the Oakridge Chat Forum. Hollett an Oakridge City Councilor uses the page for posting items like the City Council agenda and other information that involves the City of Oakridge.
Although it is not her official councilor page we learned from League of Oregon Cities this may not clear Mrs. Hollett of ethics issues or liability as a City of Oakridge Official. After reaching out to Mrs. Hollett who created this Facebook page, she would not disclose the number of Facebook pages she owns. Some citizens claim however its as many as 20. Many think that for a busy mother of three monitoring 20 Facebook pages properly is simply an impossible task. Hollett also chose not to comment about getting help to monitor the pages from outside sources.
Chrissy Hollett has been vocal about her termination as a volunteer at the Fire Department by contract employee Mike V Hansen LLC. Hollett even providing a letter from City of Oakridge Police Sergeant which seemed to support Chrissy’s claim the investigation found no reason for her termination. This letter came under scrutiny because the letter was actually originally an email sent to a friend of Hollett. Hollett gained access to the email and enhanced it with the Official City of Oakridge Letterhead as if to imply she had the support of Police Sergeant officially. Hansen was the only employee of the LLC at the time puts himself in as the newest Fire Chief. Hansen having his own issues uncovered by wife of Retired Oakridge Police Officer that Hansen has a DUII and was hired anyway, some would say hired by Gomez as a contract employee to avoid council scrutiny. It is also possible this was done to commit fraud with Oregon PERS. PERS did contact unknowingly another Hansen LLC employee when calling Oakridge City Hall to verify complaints from Hollett to PERS.
Hansen LLC was hired by City Admin Louis Gomez. Louis Gomez then finds himself hired by the LLC as a Private Investigator. Louis is former Chief of Police, and a Reserve Police Officer for the City of Oakridge at the time, and had the experience required for PI license. After working for the LLC he then signs a new contract for more pay to the LLC which is where the DOJ finds the investigation. The only other employee that we could uncover is Susan LaDuke. As Oakridge City Hall office manager she also holds a position as HR, City Recorder, Finance Director among the many. As HR she looked into employee complaints. She then used this task to investigate complaints from Chrissy Hollett. Complaints then turn from Chrissy to become complaints on Chrissy. Investigated by HR who also works for the LLC it is a clear conflict of interest. The LLC then hires HR to also perform financial duties for the LLC. Oakridge HR was also Lane County Elections official until she resigned recently. Ms. LaDuke then uses her investigations of employee complaints under Louis Gomez to become a PI for Mike Hansen LLC. Bringing many more complaints and ethics questions. Many citizen complaints lead you to believe that the LLC and HR are also involved in a more intimate relationship which no one can confirm. However, the HR is now renting a small home owned by any other than Louis Gomez with many in the City of Oakridge residents calling this the “trifecta”.
Suffering in this all is the citizens. With a budget that they cannot seem to maintain, payouts like payoffs leaving the City of Oakridge budget suffering a loss of funds they are not currently able to make up. Many citizens I spoke with desperate to end to corruption. They just can’t seem to get anyone in place that has ethics at the forefront of their priority. Recent election places all but one new council members on Oakridge City Council. Kathy Holston moved to Mayor position leaving an open seat for citizens to apply for. Even that has its own controversy. Oakridge City Council wastes no time hiring an interim City Admin Phil Messina.
Many believed he could help fix some issues with staff at the Oakridge City Hall. One city hall employee recently posted private personnel documents on her own Facebook page that involve more the 10 former employees. This issue was never addressed by Mesinna, Mayor or Council. Instead, Messina seemed to let the staff at Oakridge City Hall carry the majority of the workload. Staff seemed to be out of control, which we find more about later. Not one issue was resolved. Citizens desperately hoped he could shed some light on the corruption and help fix many issues with the Fire Department that recently exploded with an awful situation for parents who rushed an unconscious baby to the Fire Department and no one was there to provide EMS services or transportation.
This was not the first issue with the Fire Department. The first issue came to light was the termination of Chrissy Hollett. Hollett’s Husband works for the Fire Department. He himself found himself a victim of the new LLC. Hansen at one time seems to target the employee. They terminated many highly experienced volunteers who have been very vocal about the corruption and lack of ethics within the Fire Department. Many residents see this as retaliation on volunteers. Professionals I spoke with said it looks as if the sole purpose of the LLC was to bring the Fire Department to the limits and make it seem unsuccessful to bring on the privatization of the Fire Department and Ambulance service. Sometimes in order to even suggest privatization, they must prove that the Department is a failure on its own merit.
Mrs. Hollett now a newly elected Oakridge City Council member, owns as many 20 owned Facebook pages. With an already broken city, many citizens seem to be turning on each other. I have recently seen many disparaging comments from citizens directed to other citizens bring up who holds the liability issue? Does the City of Oakridge hold any liability since the owner is also a city official? Does the liability lie with just the author of the comments? Does a city councilor have an ethical liability? Does the liability lie with Mrs. Hollett for creating the venue for comments, name calling, and other forms of online harassment?
I reached out to Mrs. Hollett for comment and she said she has allowed comments and name calling even though some are about herself, admitting that only on occasion does she remove comments. She also stated she didn’t like to ban anyone. A simple search of the page using one profane word brought pages of comments on the Oakridge Chat Forum page. When I showed Mrs. Hollett she says she simply cannot monitor 24/7. I asked Mrs. Hollett again how many pages she created and she wished not to answer. I then asked if she had ever asked for admin help monitoring the page? She never answered, so I can only assume the answer is no. I also brought to her attention that the “about page” list what the page is for and what is not allowed. It says “Our hopes are that this group can be a good place for information sharing, open dialog. We will not tolerate bullying, name calling, personal attacks or just plain immature behavior. We encourage people to be respectful to one another, however, be cautious if you’re thin skinned”. Skimming through the page however it does seem to tolerate name calling.
Many situations of bullying seem to still exist on the page. It seems as if only a handful of citizens do not follow the “about page” outlined rules. So with a city facing so many corruption issues how is it that an Oakridge City Council member allows derogatory behavior on a venue she created? Certainly, this cannot be okay with the Oakridge City Council? Certainly, this is not okay with the city admin? When I asked not one person said they ever addressed online harassment, the embarrassment of citizens on councilors created Facebook page. Comments such as “thief, scumbag, and profanity” among many still exist on the page.
After writing this article a newly appointed City Administrator has been placed. League of Oregon Cities has helped place Marsha Miller as the new City Admin as a fill-in until Oakridge City Council can fill the vacancy. The citizens are all anxiously waiting to see if any changes come. Will the Oakridge Admin address issues with City Hall employees? Will she address the councilor ran Chat Forum as a venue for citizens attacking citizens? Will they continue to put citizens at risk with the LLC in place? Stay tuned, we will update our story as soon as we know.
Written by a collaborate of TOC.