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

City of Oakridge gets interim City Administrator

On December 14th, 2018 I met with Phillip Messina at Oakridge City Hall, the Interim Oakridge City Administrator has been on the job two weeks, I asked him how it was going so far. Messina indicated the outgoing City Administrator, Louis Gomez had been helpful during the transition, and that it was moving forward. I asked Messina if he had met with all of the members of the incoming council, he indicated he had met with all but one of them, and that he was looking forward to working with them.Among the topics we discussed; was the cities complaint process, Messina said he had plans on reviewing a process with the Mayor, the Council, a the city attorney. I asked him if he had met with any bias since he had been here, he said he had not and that the people of Oakridge he had met seemed interested in “moving ahead.” Also among his list of priorities was the hiring of a city administrator. Messina indicated that he would work with council and the Mayor, perhaps putting together a hiring committee. To get quality applicants, “advertising is important” using the International City Managers Association, The League of Oregon Cities, and a couple private recruiters are some of the ideas he discussed as ways to lure in talent. Getting ready for the budget was another area Messina indicated was upcoming. As far as his background goes, Messina spent time with Central Point, Colfax, and Carnation. Messina said he was a “generalist” as far as city administrators goes, and that while specializing in no particular area, he has 30 years of experience, and is familiar with all areas of city management.

submitted by Stephan Ball  

Oregon Govermental Ethics Commission finds cause on former Oakridge City Administrator

On November 8th, 2018, I received a response from the Oregon Governmental Ethics Commission indicating that they have found “cause” to believe Gomez has committed at least two different violations of ORS 244.040 and ORS244120(1)(c) after filing a complaint with the city that Louis Gomez had committed ethical violations for hiring Michael Hansen LLC without council approval, and that he had done with for Hansen where he said in the minutes from 05/17/2017 that he had not worked for Michael V Hansen. Louis first of all would have had to declare his paid work for Hansen to the Department of Ethics and let them dispose of the matter, he did not do this. It turns out that Louis had on three separate occasions been paid amounts from Michael V Hansen LLC, prior to the 05/17/2018 meeting, all of which are in amounts in excess of $50.00.
The Oregon Governmental Ethics Commission has indicated they will be opening up a full investigation into Gomez and his dealing with Michael V Hansen LLC. They indicated that investigation could take up 180 days to complete and should be done sometime in mid-April of 2019. Additional information in this case will be refereed by this write during the investigation and I will keep you the public, abreast of any findings.
Finance Director Susan Laduke who also works part time for Michael Hansen as the book keeper, is also full time employee with the city, is also a subordinate of Louis Gomez’s. On 05/17/2018, Gomez told council he had done no work for Michael Hansen, Upon talking with Laduke on November 8th she advised that Gomez was not an employee of Hansen but had been a private contractor who had done work for Hansen. I asked her why she had not volunteered that information during council instead of hiding it through obfuscation or silence she became verbally aggressive and told me I was not a very good investigator. She said she did not think remaining silent was a lie, and indicated that she no longer wanted to talk with me about this during business hours as it had nothing to do with her work and her current job.
According to records I received, invoices show that LandL Consulting received $153.90 on 01/16/2018, on 3/26/2018 for $100.00, and on 05/9/2018, in the amount $59.95. from Micheal V Hansen LLC. LandL Consulting only has one employee, Louis Gomez. The most notable violation was a contract renewal between the City of Oakridge and Michael V Hansen this was signed on 04/04/2018, this was after LandL Consulting had been paid twice by Michael V Hansen LLC. No disclosure was recorded or disposed of by Gomez to the ethics commission prior these aforementioned business dealings.
In a quote from the Oregon Governmental Ethics Commission “ In conclusion it appears that cause exists for the belief that violations of the use of office and conflict of interest provisions of ORS 244 and further investigation is warranted.”

Submitted by Stephan Ball

Includes support documents