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'Dysfunction' at Milwaukie City Hall?

Milwaukie City Council doubled down last week on potential management issues that could be contributing to complaints about communication and recent resignation announcements.

Police Chief Bob Jordan and Parks/Sustainability Director JoAnn Herrigel, who were the latest senior managers in an exodus of top city officials, have sparked the City Council’s call for an investigation.

Former Human Resources Director Cynthia Trosino left Milwaukie for Multnomah County, and last year the city also had to hire a new library director following another retirement. The city’s former planning director, Katie Mangle, left Milwaukie last year for a similar job in Wilsonville after being barred from light-rail work. Her supervisor, former Community Development Director Kenny Asher, left for Tigard soon after Mangle.

At the meeting on Nov. 5, Councilor Mark Gamba was interested in an investigation into the “overall picture” of how the city ended up in its current position.

“Milwaukie, seemingly at least in my experience of paying attention to its governance, seems to often struggle with some dysfunctionality, and maybe that’s normal for small cities, but I’d love see where we’re dysfunctional and if there are some solutions to that,” Gamba said.

Councilor Dave Hedges wanted to know whether there was any “common denominator” in top-level staff leaving. City Manager Bill Monahan then said he’d like to “jump into” the conversation when Hedges brought up a concern about the police chief’s reasons for planning to leave on Nov. 29.

“I welcome a study, but I think I’m going to need a lot of input into the structure of that study, and I think a study of the police department is necessary also,” Monahan said. “There’s an overall issue within the police department about how it is functioning, and the question that I’ve been asking for the last several months ... ‘Is the structure of that department the right structure’ ... is an analysis that has to be done by someone who has a police background.”

Mayor Jeremy Ferguson noted that the review wasn’t about the performance of Monahan. Rather it would be about the relationships between the City Council and staff, and about managers’ work with other managers.

“What I’m focused on is organization, and I know that there’s been concern about that,” Ferguson said.

City Attorney Tim Ramis quoted a possible consultant’s cost at $3,500 a day, but many city councilors thought that number was excessive and wanted to find the service at a much lower cost.

“It’s significant,” said Councilor Scott Churchill, reeling at the $3,500 figure over the course of at least a few days.

City councilors also discussed Monahan’s idea for a parallel police study. Councilor Mike Miller argued it was less about structure and more about a philosophy that fosters trust and confidence between citizens and law enforcement. He hoped to continue community policing rather than have a police force such as that shown on the “Cops” TV show.

“I want a police force that cares about its citizens, and the citizens can call them even on a first-name basis,” Miller said.

In the end, councilors decided to take more time to look at other options for a comprehensive management review.