What went wrong in Cornelius?
- Christian Gaston
- Forest Grove News-Times - News
'Team 3' hasn't answered why they fired Dave Waffle
After Monday's firing of Cornelius City Manager Dave Waffle, with many in the room calling for the recall of three city council members, the question remains: how'd the city get to this point?
Firing Waffle will cost more than $125,000, require the city to adopt a supplemental budget in order to pay for Waffle's severance and adopt a budget with interim city manager Paul Rubenstein holding two jobs. (Rubenstein is also the police chief).
It's difficult to tell what drove the 3-2 city council vote to fire Waffle now, considering that in January the council, in a 4-1 vote, agreed to wait until August to sort out Waffle's employment.
Mayor Neal Knight has been a consistent critic of Waffle, but city councilors Jamie Minshall and Mari Gottwald wouldn't say why they voted to fire Waffle Monday night.
So here's a compendium of the complaints made by the 'Team 3' that voted to oust Waffle and the context they arose in.
Knight doesn't like Waffle
Knight has been candid about his personal distaste for Waffle.
'Dave seems to think its OK to keep pissing me off,' Knight told the News-Times on Friday. 'I didn't think I could work with him when I walked through the door.'
Minshall said as much Monday before the city council meeting.
'There's a lot of history with him and Neal,' Minshall said.
But beyond personal disputes, it's difficult to see what Knight and his allies think Waffle should have done differently. And when they offer complaints, they conflict with actions the city councilors have taken in public meetings.
'I feel like Dave hasn't done enough to cut out of the budget,' Minshall said prior to Monday's meeting.
But last month, Minshall, Knight and Gottwald voted to direct Waffle to trim the general services fee by 11 percent, rather than eliminate it.
On Monday night, before they fired Waffle, the trio voted again to cut the general services fee by 11 percent, which was Waffle's proposal based on advice from the city council and the budget committee.
Payroll confuses mayor
Knight also complains about his inability to obtain information about the city.
The narrative Knight tells is one where Waffle blows him off at every turn, but the mayor is unable to identify situations where the behavior occurred.
Pressed for details, Knight shared a memo that Waffle prepared with City Recorder Debby Roth that listed in detail every employee on the city's payroll, with their salaries and job descriptions.
Knight said there were fewer names on the list than the total cited by Waffle. He walked through the paperwork with the News-Times last week, when it became clear he was missing the sheet listing police and fire employees. In the complete memo, which the News-Times obtained through a public record request, the staffing levels Waffle quoted to Knight matched the names listed.
Similar information is available on the city's website (follow this link to see it: http://bit.ly/jtPoN8). The memo is also on the News-Times website.
Minshall echoed a similar complaint, that Waffle couldn't accurately produce the number of employees on staff at the city.
Minshall said he was confused by Waffle's claim that the level of employment at the city varies 'because of something to do with the fire department.'
That's true. The city uses a complex payment method for volunteer firefighters based on calls they respond to, which creates fluctuations in the city's monthly payroll figures.
Waffle wouldn't fire staffer
Knight says that terse responses from Washington County Commissioners Bob Terry and Andy Duyck to a political strategy memo written by Richard Meyer, the city's development and operations manager, show weaknesses in city management.
Meyer's original e-mail (which can be seen on the News-Times website), lays out a lobbying strategy for Knight in a last-minute bid to win support for Cornelius' failed urban reserve plan.
After Knight showed Terry and Duyck the e-mail, both responded with puzzlement at Meyer's political read on the board.
'If I may be so bold, I think that these claims are so far off the mark that it might be prudent to reexamine who is fit to advise your Council,' Duyck wrote.
Knight believes the political kerfuffle was a disaster.
'Richard Meyer, he can't work with people, and he's in charge?' Knight told the News-Times.
Waffle thought the incident could be handled by having a conversation with Meyer.
But Knight disagreed.
'Richard Meyer, in my opinion, has screwed up so horrible he either needs to be put in another job here or he needs to go,' Knight said Friday.
Knight thought Waffle's unwillingness to fire Meyer was enough to fire the city manager.
'We need to get a real city manager, somebody who will earn their pay,' Knight said. 'I really question whether [Waffle will] fire anybody, I don't think he will. I don't think he has.'
Regardless of Knight's frustration at the situation, Oregon law indicates that by pushing for Meyer's ouster, then pushing for Waffle's, Knight was setting up the same situation that triggered an investigation into whether or not he was coercing the city manager in January.
At Monday's meeting, Tom Sponsler, the city's attorney, said an Oregon court case where a city manager fired a police chief after the mayor told him 'it's either him or you,' led to the reinstatement of the chief.
In other words, if Waffle had fired Meyer as Knight wanted, Meyer would have had an opportunity to sue to get his job back.
Other complaints swirl
Minshall also complained about Waffle's response to an idea he had. Minshall thought the city could save money by contracting out street sweeping and sewer pipe maintenance and didn't like that it was taking Waffle more than a couple weeks to develop a report on it.
Mark Crowell, the city's operations manager, hasn't completed his analysis of outsourcing the city's street sweeping function, but the initial data indicates that contracting the function out would cost the city 52 percent more.
Crowell was waiting for numbers from other Western Washington County cities, including Forest Grove and Hillsboro, which do their own sweeping, before filing the comparative report.
Gottwald, for her part, has only made one complaint about the city in public. She cited a letter she got from Brent Gayman, who detailed a number of complaints about how he was treated by city staff during the revamping of TV Highway.
Gayman claims Meyer attempted to force his business, Jarrell's AirCare NW, from its location at the intersection of Adair and 12th Street.
However, development records, which the News-Times obtained through a public record request, contain no corroborating evidence supporting Gayman's claims.
The trouble began when the city sought a temporary construction easement onto his property in order to build improvements along Adair as part of a $3.5 million project to rebuild the city's main thoroughfare.
Gayman initially refused to grant the construction easement, worried about loss of access to the site.
Designs from the Oregon Department of Transportation removed Gayman's Adair Street access, while the city was more concerned about access to 12th Street.
Documents show that from February 2006 to November 2007, the city, ODOT and Gayman went back and forth trying to hash out a deal.
The city actually fought a condemnation proposal offered by ODOT staff as a solution to the stonewalled negotiations. In the end, Gayman reaped the benefit of slowing the process down.
The city paid him $1,300 for the easement, $6,300 for his time and built specially designed approaches to his property.