Oakridge on a path to healing

Mayor Holston swearing in.

With a petition delivered to Oakridge City Council by Mellisa Bjarnson Oakridge Mayor Kathy Holston questioned the validity of the actual number of Oakridge citizens among the more than 500 online signatures. Citizens were past the point of losing faith that anyone within the City of Oakridge would help them with the lack of Emergency Services leadership that plagued the town for more than a year.

Emergency Service failing the city on several occasions prompts the City of Oakridge to attempt to relieve itself of a simple contract with Mike Hansen LLC when a City of Oakridge employee who is duel employed with Mike Hansen LLC stopped the council with a point of order. The Mayor honored the point of order setting a new precedents for the city. The City has no history with allowing point of order from non board members or non city officials.

Finally Councilor Maxfield making the motion 4-18-2019 Councilor Hadley seconded the motion to have Interim City Administrator to negotiate the ending of Mike Hansen LLC contract. The council then sits eerily silent when Mayor Holston asks for discussion. The Mayor then begins with thanking new Attorneys for answers to councils questions but goes on to expressed disappointment of her citizens saying she was disappointed by citizens response to this, that they split themselves apart with evil intent in her opinion.

The citizen response to failures has been an ongoing battle for more than a year. So it’s no wonder the citizens would become so extremely vocal and frustrated with lack of movement on the issue. Oakridge City Council already had one Attorney group look at the issue, and waited again to hear from new Attorney Group Leahy Cox.

The frustration only continued when the LLC in control of the Fire Department let go of 15% of it’s highly trained volunteers with good certifications. Almost an unprecedented move since all Oregon small towns suffer from lack of volunteers. wrote an article about another Oregon town that suffered a huge loss of Fire Department volunteers that almost mimicked the exact statements from former Oakridge Fire volunteers like “toxic work environment, badmouthing of volunteers, and retribution for speaking out”. However in the Malin Department the volunteers resigned and told Malin City Council they would only return when Chief Virgil Jochim was replaced.

Oakridge  Council pulled together with only two City of Oakridge councilors voting to keep the failing system in place. Councilor Bobbie Whitney who has a brother who works for the City of Oakridge and a relative with another city employee voted nay. The second Oakridge councilor Stan Barenboim who Oakridge residents say almost never utters a word at meetings and public work sessions. One citizen noted he nodded off at recently held Council Retreat held at Oakridge Greenwaters building. This all day event was attended by citizens of Oakridge as well as City Council and Mayor.

It is no secret that citizens have been unhappy about wrongful terminations, failing to have ready EMT’s or Ambulance Service on occasions and a non working 911 call button to list few disappointing failures. The Mayor had denied to citizens that she was given, even if only verbally, a resignation from Mike Hansen LLC, if she had the opportunity to do so and did not is still unclear.

We reached out to the current Oakridge City Administrator on April 1st 2019 about Mayor Holston’s denial and she never returned our email. It is unknown if the Oakridge City Administrator or the new Attorney group Leahy Cox is aware of Mayor Holston’s actions, or the legality of them. Citizens shocked and dismayed at Mayor damaging comments of her own citizens. The evil intent citizens say comes from councilors that continue to support the failing system and risked citizens lives. Recently parents to a 18 month old child unconscious found out the hard way that no Ambulance or ready EMT’s could be found at the Oakridge Fire station even the 911 call button for emergencies was non functioning.

Even though Mayor Holston slammed the citizens as a group she still managed to vote to negotiate ending the Mike Hansen LLC contract for Fire and Ambulance Service in Oakridge. Mayor Holston breaking down to tears but also taking no responsibility as Mayor for the failing department. Mayor Holston was a councilor when the city realized the LLC was no longer not working but actually failing to perform basic duties for the City of Oakridge. Many citizens we spoke with believe the corruption still lingers at Oakridge City Hall and for the city to truly move on this is something Oakridge City Council and the CA must address.

Finding every citizen we could speak with on a busy Friday in Oakridge all of them in agreement this was the first big move to restore peace in the community but much more about safety to citizens than any other perk to this move. All saying they have been praying to bringing back terminated volunteers. Glad that councilors put citizens first, worried about the two hold outs and their intent with the City of Oakridge.

Citizens now discussing the dire financial situation facing the City of Oakridge. Naming retired citizens that still hold certifications in highly skilled fields that could volunteer time to some key paid positions to help elevate the huge financial budget burden that already loomed this small town. And hopeful to bring back the much needed non paid volunteers for the Fire Department. With highly skilled and certified volunteers picking up normally paid positions they might actually be able to pull it off without bankruptcy.

A haven for weekend tourist I myself am now drawn here. From the full lakes and outdoor paradise to the food I see so many positive things about Oakridge including the citizens. A diverse group of passionate people wanting the very best safe place to retire, work, raise families, do art, etc.. I see a city that needs a leap of faith. This move does seem to have a calming effect on citizen said many patrons of Stewart’s 58 diner. As I sit here and talk with folks I definitely will come back here, as I beg my editor to do a story just on the breakfast burrito alone. It’s a must have for anyone passing through! The Locals also wanting me to include that they hold an annual Tree Planting Festival that will occur this year May 3rd – May 5th so everyone can come and support this small friendly town nestled in the foothills of the Western Cascade Mountains.

Written by Marie

Recent terminations in Oakridge have some wondering if it’s even legal

Oakridge embroiled in controversy started the first city council meeting for Oakridge in January of 2019, with Mayor Kathy Holston speaking of holding no grudges, and letting the past stay in the past, evidently that is not to be the case.

I spoke with a few of the recently let go Oakridge Fire Department Volunteers who said they were let go for inadequately attending training. Each person I spoke with said the same thing, they felt that they were let go because they do not agree with the Contractor for Oakridge Fire Department Michael Hansen, some even citing that it was political revenge for them being friends with Councilor Chrissy Hollett.

With letters going out to at least five Oakridge Reserve Fire Personnel, Hansen LLC signed letters as Interim Fire Chief, even though he is not, raising even more legal questions. The Oakridge City Charter also does not allow the contractor to terminate employment of volunteers. This comes just one day after Interim City Administrator Messina goes on vacation, the timing looks suspicious. In looking at the contract of Michael V. Hansen LLC and the City of Oakridge, it allows for the consultant to recommend termination of employees to the City Administrator, unknown if this could legally be done by guidance from an Interim.

There is still argument from many in Oakridge that Michael V. Hansen LLC was illegally hired by then City Administrator Louis Gomez, some citing that Gomez not only did not have the authority to hire the contract without the city council, but that he did not have authority to renew the contract under that same authority. Gomez cited that he had received clearance from the Oakridge City Attorney to go ahead with the contract.

The City of Oakridge is seeking a new city attorney, at least one current councilor citing this as a reason for needing a new attorney. Gomez, whose contract with the city was terminated as of 01/01/2019, is under DOJ ethics investigations for receiving money from Michael V. Hansen through his own LLC, and then subsequently renewing the Michael V. Hansen LLC contract after receiving the money. 

Photo curtesy of Oakridge Fire and EMS Facebook page.

Written by Stephan B