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  • 21 Oct 2014

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AFSCME, OC stare down over demotion

Oregon City’s employees union last week formally complained of unfair labor practices in Samantha Vandagriff’s demotion and threatened firing that came in the aftermath of the city’s failure to collect development fees, which cost taxpayers nearly $1 million.

In April 2009, commissioners enacted a resolution that revised the fee schedule for transportation system development charges.

In December 2012, Vandagriff discovered that a SDC fee schedule prepared for a customer did not seem in accordance in accordance with the revised schedule, and she notified a supervisor of the conflicting reports.

An auditor then uncovered a series of former city supervisors who lacked any initiative to enforce the increased charges, as previously reported in “Former staffers blamed in OC fee-collection scandal,” Feb. 20.

The Local Government Personnel Institute in Salem looked into the errors at the request of City Manager David Frasher, who revealed in February that the city disciplined two of the three involved employees who still work for the city, while the third was still “pending.”

On the advice of his attorney, Frasher declined to discuss details at the time, but the employees union last week complained that Vandagriff’s higher-ups only received a written reprimand and a mandated training course. However, the city demoted Vandagriff, who is an active union member, from senior plans examiner to plans examiner on March 25.

“Your position is not an entry-level job with entry-level expectations,” Frasher wrote to Vandagriff that day, noting her 16 years with the city and opportunities she missed to fix the error.

Union complaints over the issue reached a boiling point when the city tried to get the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to not “insist on pressing forward.” A city attorney wrote on April 5 that Oregon City would fire her if the union didn’t withdraw its arguments on the appropriateness of her demotion by 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 10. Oregon City blinked first in the stare-down. Jim Loeffler, OC’s Human Resources director, said that “further legal review” caused the city to back down, but declined to comment further on the case.

“There’s no longer any ultimatum,” Loeffler said. “Every disciplinary issue is difficult, but I prefer not to comment specifically.”

Although the city rescinded its letter regarding the threatened termination, the union will not withdraw its unfair-labor-practice complaint, according to AFSCME spokeswoman Stacy Chamberlain.

“While the union is glad that the city recognized that the letter violated the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act, it does not erase the illegal actions that led the union to file the unfair-labor-practice complaint in the first place,” Chamberlain said. “We do not believe that the city has just cause for discipline, and the demotion violates the contract.”

City Commission took steps in February to try to recover about $300,000 of the $800,000 that it didn’t bill developers, and Frasher in January announced plans for future audits and reconciliation practices (“City launches fee investigation after employee error,” Jan. 23).