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Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt signs separation agreement with city

Will withdraw tort claim notice, assist in transition

Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt will leave her position, effective March 4.

Wyatt and the City of West Linn reached a mutual separation agreement Thursday, according to a press release. As part of the agreement, Wyatt will receive severance pay as directed in her original contract, and she will also receive "additional compensation" in exchange for withdrawing a gender discrimination tort claim notice and removing herself from the running for the city manager position.

Kirsten Wyatt

Wyatt also agreed to "assist with transitional projects as the city hires a new city manager and citizen engagement coordinator."

"The efficiency and effectiveness of the city of West Linn is my top priority," Wyatt said in a written statement to The Tidings. "It's clear to me that some of the councilors misunderstand my role and do not support my public service to West Linn. While it's not easy to leave the organization and my incredible coworkers, I do not want my continued employment to be a distraction from the important work of the city."

Wyatt's tenure with the City dates back to 2007. Since then, she has served as finance analyst, assistant to the city manager and assistant city manager. In 2015, she earned the "Early Career Leadership Award" from the International City County Management Association (ICMA). "Kirsten is a remarkably versatile administrator and her record on both critical project and team management is commendable," Interim City Manager Don Otterman said in the press release. "I am impressed with her communications and outreach skills, she clearly and confidently delivers the messages of the city in a way that is professional and poised."

Wyatt's departure is just the latest in a series of exits at West Linn city hall. In August 2015, longtime City Manager Chris Jordan resigned from his post, citing concerns with his position becoming a political issue in an upcoming election.

Citizen Engagement Coordinator Lori Hall also departed shortly thereafter, and in January the City reached a separation agreement with Community Development Director Chris Kerr.

Wyatt, for her part, filed a tort claims notice with the City in late November 2015, citing gender discrimination and charter violations committed by Mayor Russ Axelrod and City Councilor Brenda Perry.

The gender discrimination incident allegedly occurred when the City Council was discussing how to move forward in the wake of Jordan’s resignation last August. The City Council opted to hire Otterman rather than promote Wyatt to the interim position.

According to the complaint, “In late July of 2015, Councilor Brenda Perry stated to Councilor Jenni Tan that Ms. Wyatt was not her choice for the Interim City Manager position as, ‘Kirsten has other duties that she is busy with such as her children...’ Thereafter, Ms. Wyatt was not considered for the interim positon, although she had frequently filled in for the City Manager when City Manager Chris Jordan was absent.”

The second alleged incident involving Axelrod occurred Sept. 1. According to the complaint, Axelrod was introduced to David Barenberg, a contracted lobbyist with the city, and Barenberg stated that Wyatt was his “primary contact” in West Linn.

The complaint stated that Axelrod “gratuitously stated to Mr. Barenberg that he thought that Ms. Wyatt was part of the problem with the administration, that he hoped she would be gone, and that he hoped that would be something Mr. Otterman would do.”

The tort claim notice remained in place when the City opened the application process for the city manager position in January. Wyatt applied for that position, but withdrew that application as part of the separation agreement.

Reached for comment Thursday, Perry said she was glad to be able to move forward after the tort claim was dropped.

"It's never a good thing to have something like that hanging over the city," Perry said. "It's always good to have something like that behind you, especially with a new city manager coming in.

"We appreciate her work and all the work she'd done, and wish her well for the future."

The council will review a list of finalists at an executive session later this month.

Reached via email, Axelrod said, "I would just like to thank Kirsten for her years of service to the city and wish her the best in the future."

City Councilor Thomas Frank, meanwhile, issued a statement via Facebook.

"Kirsten Wyatt is a true professional and respected nationwide for her passion and commitment to local government. Her departure from the City is a significant loss to West Linn," he wrote. "Since the new council took office, four senior employees have left. These departures come at a significant cost to our city, hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars that should be utilized for essential services such as public safety, roads and sidewalks are now paid out to former employees.

"I am afraid it will not end here."