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City Council will discuss controversy in closed session

Regular agenda items raise question of city manager's supervisory role over city employees

An executive session closed to the public is scheduled for Monday evening, during which the Newberg City Council will hold “consultation with legal counsel regarding legal rights and duties.”

Because it is an executive session the agenda does not go into any further detail, although from statements over the past month there is likely to be discussion of City Manager Jacque Betz’s ongoing administrative leave, the allegations that have surfaced against both herself as well as the police department and Police Chief Brian Casey, and what action the city will take.GARY ALLEN - Newberg City Hall has been at the center of controversy invovling City Manager Jacque Betz and NDPD Police Chief Brian Casey for the past month.

Betz placed Casey on administrative leave last month in order to conduct an assessment of the police department after allegations surfaced of excessive use of force, modified police reports, verbal harassment within the department and more. Allegations were then submitted to the Yamhill County district attorney’s office that Betz was romantically involved with a police officer and that the relationship was intertwined with the decision to remove Casey. Betz was placed on leave while the Marion County district attorney and Oregon State Police investigated, Casey was returned to his position and while Betz was cleared of any charges she remains on leave nearly four weeks later.

Following the executive session the regular City Council business meeting will be held, which is open to the public. A long list of items are on the agenda due to the lack of a meeting earlier this month.

Among them, councilors are scheduled to consider approval of a collective bargaining agreement between the city and the police association, which has been in negotiations for several months following approval of a short-term contract earlier this year.

Also on the agenda is a resolution authorizing City Manager Pro Tem Terry Mahr to appoint new employees in a number of positions.

In a normal situation, these employee hires would not come before City Council, but as Mahr is only in the position on a temporary basis all hirings and firings are subject to council approval. Reinstatement of personnel from administrative leave does not require council approval, however, which is how Casey was brought back on the job without the council meeting, Council President Denise Bacon confirmed earlier this week.

Vacancies to be filled include a wastewater treatment plant operator (the previous employee left last week), two engineering positions (open for a month), a financial analyst position that had not been filled this year, and three police officer positions scheduled to start in early September.

The police officer positions became vacant through a combination of resignations and terminations over the past few months, the agenda explains.

Now that the long recruitment process is over, city practice is for the police chief (just like all other department heads) to recommend the employee for hire, with the final hiring decision resting with the city manager.

“Each department recommends personnel for hire based on interviews and background checks, things like that, and they make a recommendation to the city manager, which is normal in all the places I’ve worked,” interim Human Resources Director Nancy McDonald said.

This suggests the city manager, holding final hiring and firing power over city employees, would classify as a supervisor to those employees, including police officers.

“To be technically correct, all employees report to either one of the three charter positions,” City Attorney Truman Stone said. Those three positions are the municipal judge, the city attorney and city manager. Nobody reports to the judge right now, 3.5 positions in the legal department report to Stone, and the rest of the city employees report to the city manager.

The question becomes whether the city manager is a direct or indirect supervisor to those workers, as there is a department head between the city manager and the employee.

“In analyzing ‘direct supervisor,’ my best reading of that would mean a supervisor above you, because anybody beyond that would be an indirect supervisor,” Stone said.

This point is especially pertinent considering wordage in the personnel manual on supervisory roles. The city “will not place a spouse, partner or immediate family member under the direct supervision of his/her spouse, partner or family member,” the manual states.

The wording is, admittedly, fairly vague as the role of “spouse” or “partner” is not defined in detail.

“When I read this I thought we could get a lot more clear about this,” Stone said. “I started looking at (other cities’) policies, and the best ones I found say, ‘If you’re having a romantic relationship with any other city employee then you must notify your supervisor.’”

A committee has been working on updating the city personnel manual for a long time, Stone said, far prior to the recent controversy.

Still, Stone stated, “Ultimately the city manager is the person responsible for employees within the city.”

As yet the alleged relationship between Betz and Police Officer Jeremy Fair has not been substantiated and neither has commented on the allegations.

Also among the vacancies in city positions is an administrative assistant position that opened up when Colleen Miller, assistant to Betz, resigned last week. She worked in that position since September 2014.

While her departure comes in the middle of the city hall shakeup, the timing may be coincidental, as McDonald explained that Miller was in the position on a temporary basis and now that her kids are returning to school she is leaving the position.

The executive session will be held at 5 p.m. Monday, an hour earlier than the council work sessions typically begin, while the regular meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Both are held at the Public Safety Building.