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Councilors push for more communication

Scappoose city councilors say they want to be more involved in the city manager’s personnel decisions.

A discussion about what role the city manager should have in staff hiring and termination decisions dominated a City Council meeting Monday evening, Nov. 3, in Scappoose.

Councilors said they were left in the dark about the promotion of the city’s new police chief, Norm Miller.

“When we hired the police chief, I, to this day, don’t know who the other candidates were,” Councilor Mark Reed said.

City Attorney Shelby Rihala referenced previous talks the council had about having a communication process between the manager and council before any significant employment decisions take place.

“One of the policies we had discussed was on a hiring committee, requiring that two council members be on that committee,” Rihala recalled. “This is really council’s opportunity to shape that policy.”

Councilors toyed with the idea of such a committee, but dropped it when Rihala reminded them they’d be subject to public meetings laws.

Upon Scappoose Police Chief Norm Miller’s promotion from lieutenant to chief last month, a press release from City Manager Larry Lehman indicated two council members served on an interview committee, along with a school district representative and the city’s prosecuting attorney.

With a new city manager hire looming, a few councilors suggested adopting a probationary period that would prevent a new manager from hiring or firing city employees without talking to the council about it first.

“Our city charter gives the full authority to the city manager for hiring and firing and I think ... our intention was that, because we’ve had such turnover and we’re going to have another brand new city manager coming in here ... that we wanted it to be that that person would come to council and discuss with council before any major decisions were made, as far as firing and hiring were concerned,” Councilor Barbara Hayden said. “It was our intention to protect our employees of the city from someone coming in who didn’t know background and didn’t know employees and didn’t know the circumstances.”

Hayden said the intent was to have the manager communicate about hiring and firing of department heads, not all city staff.

Last November, the City Council offered a severance package to its city manager at the time, Jon Hanken, after Hanken ordered an independent investigation into then police chief, Doug Greisen. Councilors, including Hayden, Reed and Jason Meshell, who served on a review committee, later conducted their own investigation into allegations of Greisen’s alleged whistleblower retaliation and safety breach, concluding the independent investigation was flawed.

Hanken accepted the severance in lieu of being fired.

“One of the responsibilities of the city manager is to keep the council informed, and that’s not just for a probation period,” Reed reiterated.

Mayor Scott Burge agreed, and said the city’s policy already dictates that city managers will inform the council of any substantial decisions or events in the city.

Lehman said he wished he had reached out to the council more during the police chief selection process.

“The most important thing for a manager is to have everything as open as possible ... there’s nothing we’re trying to keep down,” Lehman told councilors.

After about 25 minutes of discussion on the matter, councilors decided not to take any action, but agreed to ask current and future city managers to email the council before deciding to hire or fire employees who serve major roles within the city.

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