Oakridge City Council could not have foreseen the nasty comments at Monday nights Council meeting from Oakridge Mayor Kathy Holston or Bryan Cutchen. The last regular Oakridge City Council Meeting June 17th meeting there was a push for a budget to pass with some Council calling it a “false budget”. Council Member Melissa Bjarnson asking if it was OK to pass a budget with funds included before the vote on an ordinance that could bring in revenue needed for the deficit in budget, got her ostracized in a public meeting by Mayor Holston.
The Mayor who made no attempt in hiding she was biased in favor of the ordinance that would charge each water meter $31 “Public Safety Fee”. Many can’t even agree if this is a real fee or a additional tax on people, just enough to cover the deficit. The new “fee” is six times that of other cities in Oregon. Some lawyers we spoke with say the “fee” is extreme and does read as if it would effect hotels and mobile home parks the hardest. Hotels with 40 rooms could face a fee of up to $15,000+ per year even though the Mayor disagrees. Something the City Administrator and Mayor Kathy Holston believe is not their intent, but two law firms in Portland Oregon reviewed the Ordinance for the water rate increase and said “citizens have a super strong case against the City of Oakridge if passed”.
This is very reminiscent of the environment back in 2012 when City Employees and Citizens discussed cutting the City of Oakridge Jail and dispatch department in favor of a contract with Lane County Sheriff’s Department taking over dispatch duties, this Passed on January 19th 2012. Then Chief Louis Gomez told Council that the proposal would save over time $125,000. City employees with skin in the game told citizens that we wouldn’t have the same service. Rumors ran rampant that decision would be catastrophic. The City of Oakridge change was hard for some to accept but was rather seamless, and the hole Lane County filled was not even felt by citizens. The cuts then to Jail Dispatch and Public Works balanced the budget that was needed at that time.
The years since, City of Oakridge has been told that they need to find a way to bring in revenue, including running a profitable business, which they have not done. Now, many cuts would be needed to meet the budget requirements, Financial Advisers we spoke with said the City of Oakridge certainly cannot keep the Fire Department and Ambulance service the way it is. It will need a revamp and even a contract for service like that passed in 2012 for the Oakridge Police.
Some citizens we spoke with believe that there is some conflicts of interest within City of Oakridge Council after an article written about one councilor and her husband who are both employed by the Fire Department calling them the “$200,000” couple. Wages are not that high but with overtime it was the payout. The Councilor in question then pushed for a cut to the Police Department again. Since 2012 the Police Department has run within their budget. The Municical Court in Oakridge however has not. The Oakridge Police department used to write enough tickets to make the Court profitable with an average of two tickets per day per officer, this however is no longer the case and the Police Department falls way below the threshold to make the court profitable.
Several citizens we spoke with said the cuts need to come from the departments that are consistently over budget such as the Oakridge Fire Department. They do believe that there are misinformation campaigns being spread that we will have less service or poor service because of any cuts or contract for Ambulance, but most citizens know that those spreading falsehoods have financial reasons to do the misinformation campaigns. No wage cuts have been made, no freeze to “fee waivers” for rentals, no overtime limits were placed on the City of Oakridge Employees and in fact the City of Oakridge hired summer help. The citizens were also shocked at the Mayors behavior after hearing her comments. One citizen we spoke with said that the Mayor, Kathy Holston, has them blocked on her personal social media but she continues to use her personal Facebook account to speak on City of Oakridge issues and submitted a screenshot of how Mayor treats citizens was making circulation around the city.
In the council meeting on June 17th 2021 Councilor Coker asked about the $31 fee that was included in budget to which her questions were denied by Mayor Holston. “Without the passing of the budget first the ordinance has no teeth”, “regardless of how we end up with this it is imperative we pass the budget”, “I know that sounds contradictory, but what I’m trying to explain is um I want us to concentrate on passing the budget and then we can talk about the ordinance”, “if we do not pass the ordinance after passing the budget then we have to rework the budget”, “It is imperative we pass a budget” said Holston. Following the Mayors advice she asks Bryan Cutchen the Oakridge City Administrator to speak “it’s anticipated revenue in the budget, and it’s fine to pass it, however, if the ordinance doesn’t pass then you don’t have the authority to exercise that”. “So you would go to a supplemental budget in the New Year and account for that revenue that is no longer there either through reduction in expenditures or revenue from somewhere else”.
Councilor Spliethof said he wanted to make sure passing the budget didn’t also pass the ordinance to which the Mayor said no. Councilor Kinyon said it would make her feel very uncomfortable to do this. Councilor Spliethof asked if it was a false budget to which the Mayor responded ” No it is not and your are reading the chat”. Councilor Spliethof said “No, I am asking for myself”. Councilor Coker also stated her concern for voting for a budget with funds not even voted on yet. Councilor Coker even asking again before the vote.
Budget committee member Jan Christensen asking “Why we were not told during the budget meeting that this “fee” came with the penalties you say now you will shut off water and you will fine people”. “Citizens will be shocked”, “I feel like I was lied to”. ” I would like to know how you justify that without more serious cuts”?
City Administrator also brought up chlorine shortage, the Mayor said, if we run out of the chlorine of which we have a 60 day supply, we cannot produce water. This seems to be coming at the absolute worst time for citizens. Many citizens saying that we are expected to pay fees six times that of other cities and we may not even have water in 60 days. This is why major cuts are vital and that only solution is not an ordinance creating revenue. “We deserve good water, our city has water rights to some of the best water around and we do nothing with it. We used to have a Police Chief who for more than 10 years worked three day shifts a week as a normal officer thus eliminating a lot PD overtime, we do not have the Chief doing this now. We have a out of date sewer system that is 10 years past it’s life expectancy. Every one of my neighbors believe any Councilor that votes for these high fees does not care for the citizens they represent. It’s just not transparent that our last meeting our City of Oakridge Administrator edited the last couple minutes of Council Meeting where he is caught in a hot-mic incident. We have a Mayor that ends a public meeting with a motion and a second but no vote. We have little confidence that the leaders are leading in a professional way and doing the best for it’s citizens” said a patron of Rays Market in Oakridge.
Councilor Audy Spliethof said “After the public voted no I don’t think it’s up to council to force it down their throats. You heard people say “no no no”. “I for one am here for my constituents”. Holston is seen in the Zoom meeting talking over the Councilor and somewhat throwing an adult tantrum in background of the video. After taking the exact advice the City Administrator and Mayor Kathy Holston gave Council immediately the City Administrator Bryan Cutchen says that any council member who now wishes to vote no for the ordinance is “DISEINGENUOUS” to pass a budget you knew was out of balance”. Opposite of the same advice he gave a few days prior. Councilor Kinyon chimed back with “You recommended we do it that way” which according to the Zoom recording is correct.
The Mayor then insults Councilor Kinyon saying “I’m glad you think this is fun, you have placed the city in jeopardy we don’t have a balanced budget. You have no intention of adding funds to balance it. Therefore we cannot present it to the State of Oregon”. Also going against her advice just days prior where the Mayor never mentions anything resembling Bryan’s statement “do it with the knowledge that you were going to work on passing the ordinance that included a public safety fee”. All but one on Council had expressed deep concerns only to have Bryan Cuchen City Admin say they were all disingenuous, and unbelievable, to which Whitey said “I agree”, and the Mayor said “I agree too”. Which is what all the council had expressed with exception of Bobbie Whitney and Christina Hollett who stayed out of the discussion at the Thursday council meeting.
The Mayor goes on to say that they cannot do a supplemental budget as she and City Administrator had basically promised at the June 17th meeting. Bryan also threatening “You passed the budget and I’m gonna take care of the other rest of it”. Shocked and dismayed Councilor Kinyon says “The only reason I voted the way I did for the budget is because you said if the Safety Fee does not pass then we will have to do a supplemental budget. Are you kidding me”? Then Kathy Holston says are you retiring as a Councilor”? With a reply that will echo around the world Kinyon replies “Don’t get your hopes up honey”.
Once consistant thing accouring during council meetings is Mayor Kathy Holston insulting members of her own Council, most often Audy Spliethof and Dawn Kinyon. Later in the June 21st 2021 council meeting Mayor Kathy Holston flips again and says they can do a supplemental budget. All City Council voted NOT to hear the first reading of the Ordinance except Hollett who obstained, Whitney who voted no and Mayor who voted no.
The last words of the special meeting were epic as councilors make statements like “Wow, cranky”, “Total disrespect for councilors from the Mayor”. And right on cue with Councilors hands raised the Mayor then demands the meeting closed by the City Administrator.
Written by Marie Sharp and Stephan Ball