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Councilor Mary Wescott resigns; apologizes for bringing Baker to hellhole

Damascus city councilors accepted the resignation of embattled City Manager Greg Baker – as well as the resignation of a city councilor – during a hastily called meeting Friday, May 24.

With a 5-2 vote, the council approved a severance agreement by which Baker will receive the same severance package he would have gotten if the council had fired him – worth roughly $300,000, or 15 percent of the city's cash assets.

Two councilors who have been vocal supporters of Baker, Mary Wescott and Jim DeYoung, voted in favor of the agreement, along with Mayor Steve Spinnett, Council President Andrew Jackman and Councilor Mel O'Brien.

Wescott, while on the verge of tears, said her yes vote would be her last act on the council, then apologized to Baker for "bringing him to this hellhole of a city."

With that, she said, "I am done," grabbed her coat and left the council meeting.

Baker, who was not at the meeting, will receive one year of severance pay and will be paid for the remainder of his contract, which extends through 2014, as well as a year of health benefits.

The separation agreement is estimated to cost the city $300,000. It also serves as a release agreement, preventing Baker or the city from suing each other.

When Baker came from Kansas City, Mo., to start the job on July 9, 2012, the severance package was far less generous. However, the previous council in December approved a new package in order to avoid costly ligation stemming from defamatory statements Mayor Steve Spinnett made about Baker following an investigation involving Spinnett's wife.

While Baker was just two months into the job, he received a report from city staff that the mayor’s wife appeared to use a cell phone to take photos or images of confidential code enforcement documents containing a Damascus resident’s personal information that were on a city employee’s desk at City Hall.

Baker reported the allegation to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.

Detectives investigated and found no evidence of criminal conduct or wrongdoing of such photos being taken on or deleted from her cell phone.

During Friday's meeting, councilors Randy Shannon and Bill Wehr voted against the agreement but for vastly different reasons. Shannon said the move was part of Mayor Steve Spinnett's retribution against the city manager, a move that was aided and abetted by two other councilors. "This is why the city manager can no longer do his job," Shannon said.

Wehr, however, objected to the timing of the vote, saying that he wanted more time to review the agreement. He also thought the matter could be handled during a meeting already scheduled for Tuesday, May 28, instead of a special emergency City Council meeting that councilors learned of just one hour before it took place.

Councilor Jim DeYoung, who joined the council in January, said he did not support efforts to oust Baker but voted for the separation agreement because it's what Baker wanted.

He went on to say that the process is so flawed he is considering resigning as a councilor, in part because of the council's failure to uphold its end of Baker's renegotiated contract. According to the contract, the council was supposed to review Baker's job performance by Jan. 9, and was to provide proof of any unsatisfactory performance.

That never happened.

"I personally failed him, and I apologize to him and to all of you," DeYoung told the crowd of about 30 people in the audience.

Citizens at the meeting expressed outrage at Baker's forced departure and said it would further fuel an effort to disincorporate Damascus as a city. Volunteers are gathering the signatures needed to place the matter on the November ballot.

Outside City Hall, resident Sandra Boggs held a sign saying, "Spinnett u owe Damascus $300,000." She's trying to find a lawyer to file a class action suit on behalf of the citizens of Damascus against the mayor, she said.

"He should have to pay for this, not our tax dollars," she said. "Greg Baker deserved every penny but Spinnett should pay it."

Bogg's son Alex Thom also held a sign. It read, "Spinnett this was the last straw."

That holds true for Wescott. After storming out of the council meeting, she tendered her resignation and at her request was immediately removed from the list of city councilors on Damascus' website.

"I'm feeling pretty darn good," she said afterward. "I made the right decision. It's a pretty bold statement but I ... can no long work with the council."

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