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Oak Lodge Sanitary District Board refuses General Manager Michael Read's resignation

After a bizarre series of events, the Oak Lodge Sanitary District Board voted unanimously this week to reject General Manager J. Michael Read’s plan to retire Dec. 31.

FILE PHOTO - Oak Lodge Sanitary District General Manager J. Michael ReadRead, whose contract only requires that he give 30 days’ notice, can’t actually be forced to work under the circumstances. But he willingly withdrew his letter of resignation after hearing OLSD board members argue that he’s been doing a good job.

Read’s decision to set his retirement date was prompted in part by his regretting the manner in which he took Clackamas County’s side in a longstanding sewer battle with Oregon City. In a second letter to this newspaper, Read made it clear that he was speaking not on behalf of OLSD, but as a private citizen who still harbors fond feelings for the county department he administered from 1997 to 2002, and as an interim director in 2014.

“I’ve always had excellent judgment,” Read said. “As I see my retirement coming, I’m less inclined to keep my lips shut about something that needs to be said.”

Board members made it clear that they agreed with the points made in the original letter and supported Read’s freedom to express his opinions openly about issues of public interest.

“They’re unrelated issues, this letter and your retirement,” Director Susan Keil told Read.

Letters to the editor of the Clackamas Review aside, Read, 63, originally told his wife he’d be retiring in 2012, and he’s been delaying the date at the OLSD Board’s request ever since. He was in a serious car crash in October.

“I’m not immortal; I used to think that I was,” he said. “I’ve been tilting windmills for 40 years… All the Oregon City thing did was convince me that it’s time to let someone else do the windmill tilting.”

Read estimated that the board would have to begin recruiting for his replacement in September to get a good candidate by the end of the year, but he offered to stay on during 2016 in an advisory capacity. The consensus among board members was that they would probably accept Read’s last day of employment as Dec. 31, but not if he set the date this month, and not for the reasons he outlined.

“He can give it back to us next month,” Director Terry Gibson said of Read’s resignation letter. “He can always try again.”

In the meantime, OLSD has several other major projects to tackle this year:

1. Merger: Read has been the project manager for a potential merger with the Oak Lodge Water District. After the May election, both districts now have the political momentum to go to voters with a plan to save at least $300,000 annually. Pressing questions emerge if Read’s retirement date is set. Which district staff member will take over the merger studies, and does the new OLSD general manager, when selected, become a candidate for managing both districts along with OLWD’s Dan Bradley?

2. Development: Lennar is proposing to build 72-house subdivision to replace the evangelical compound in Jennings Lodge. OLSD can’t do anything to prevent Clackamas County from allowing the zone change during an Aug. 20 hearing, but it can decide that Lennar’s current plan to manage stormwater on the site is inadequate, forcing a more expensive solution. Community members are concerned about increased runoff after the development removes about 300 mature trees. “They requested direct discharge to the Willamette River, and we told them no,” Read said. “We’ve made it clear to them that they need to detain and treat on that site… We’ve going to implement our code in a way that maximizes the treatment and the detention requirements on that property.”

3. Negotiations: OLSD has been working for seven years on an agreement with Gladstone over 800 accounts within city limits. Gladstone rates within the district are higher than unincorporated Clackamas County, but Read suspects that Gladstone’s pipes are in a poor condition that will cost the district extra, so OLSD Board President Ginny Van Loo is going to be discussing the issue with Mayor Dominick Jacobellis. Meanwhile, Read has almost given up on convincing the state to stop making OLSD haul its treated biosolids down to a lagoon in Roseburg, rather than giving it to farmers as the district has in the past, because DEQ defines the lagoon as a “process unit.” “It’s a waste of energy, and it’s a waste of dollars, but that what were stuck with,” Read said.