An emergency executive council session was called for 2pm today in Damascus.
Here’s a recap of the public part of the session after the meeting:
Greg Baker (pictured above) resigned as City Manager.
Mary Wescott immediately resigned from council after she voted to let Baker out of his contract.
James DeYoung announced he is contemplating resigning as well, saying “Baker took the high road. ”
Some citizens on hand called for all of the council to resign.
Others called for the mayor to personally pay the $300,000+ severance pay to Baker, and not leave the taxpayers on the hook for his personal vendetta.
Others loudly “thanked” Andrew Jackman for his part in all this. Some citizens have not forgiven Jackman for jumping in to the mayoral race at the last moment last year and causing a 3 way split allowing Spinnett to hang on to his gavel.
Sandra Boggs and Alex Thom – Photo courtesy D R Jothen
Where to now Damascus?
City Manager Greg Baker Forced Out
by Dean Apostol
Damascus Mayor Steve Spinnett and City Council President Andrew Jackman have successfully orchestrated the resignation of City Manager Greg Baker, at a cost to city taxpayers of well over $300,000.
Mr. Baker, handpicked by Mayor Spinnett to run the city only last summer, fell out with Spinnett over an incident involving the Mayor’s wife at City Hall. As reported in the Sunrise Times in our September and October 2012 issues, two City staff reported to Mr. Baker that they saw Mrs. Spinnett possibly photographing confidential documents while she was at City Hall to pick up some papers. Staff reported the incident to Mr. Baker, who asked the Mayor to bring his wife’s cell phone or camera to City Hall to see if it contained any confidential information from the City. The Mayor refused, the Spinnetts lawyered up, and the Mayor orchestrated a personal attack against Baker. This opened the City to a potential defamation lawsuit.
In December of last year Baker and the City Council agreed to a new employment contract and a $10,000 payment to Baker that was supposed to have laid the matter to rest. But in the ensuing months the Mayor has, according to City officials who wish to remain anonymous, repeatedly interfered with Baker’s work. Spinnett and his two close allies on the City Council, Bill Wehr and Mel O’Brien, lacked the votes necessary to force Baker out. But over the last month Councilor Andrew Jackman also turned against Baker. Jackman appeared to be upset over his failure to convince the Community Development Director and fellow Council members to back stronger conservation measures in the City Comprehensive Plan. The Mayor has been arguing to weaken conservation.
With Jackman on board, the Mayor had the four votes he needed to get his revenge on Baker. But this is an expensive revenge for City taxpayers. The bill comes to $321,619.66. (The Times does not know what the 66 cents is for).
The Council went into executive session on Monday night, May 20 to confer on the issue. The Times was present at that meeting, but cannot report on what transpired. Nevertheless the gist of what was discussed leaked out shortly after the meeting, with several councilors and this newspaper receiving calls from citizens who clearly knew that the meeting was about forcing Baker to resign. Baker did not come to work after that evening. The Times does not know if this was voluntary or as directed. The Council did not take a vote regarding Baker, so it is unclear what the authority was for keeping Baker from his office. Reportedly, the City Attorney began negotiations with Mr. Baker’s attorney regarding the terms of a resignation.
An emergency meeting of the Council was called for Friday afternoon. Despite the short notice over 20 citizens came to City Hall. They were barred from the executive session, which lasted about an hour. A public session was then opened. The City Attorney provided a summary of the situation, and the public was allowed to comment.
The Mayor, anticipating a hostile reaction, stressed the need to stay civil and avoid personal attacks. He described the nature of the “Severance Agreement and Release” that had been negotiated with Mr. Baker. He said it had three main provisions, 1) payment of severance, 2) a release of liability, and 3) a non-disparagement clause, meaning neither party could make negative remarks about the other regarding Baker’s employment. The City Attorney recommended that the Council approve the agreement.
Chris Hawes, Chair of the Committee for Citizen Involvement, was the first to testify. He said the City Attorney had glossed over the issues. That Mr. Baker was being forced to resign. Hawes said that the City was in violation of the December 17, 2012 agreement with Mr. Baker. That since that time there had been a continuous effort to run Mr. Baker out of town for what amounted to a personal vendetta. . That this action was “childish, immature, and beneath the dignity of elected officials.” Hawes reminded the Council that Baker stood out among the 5 candidates they had short listed for City Manager, and that in his job, Baker had made progress possible, and had focused city staff. “Now we are going to blow up the city. Now you have blown it up.”
Don Arbuckle, former candidate for City Council, was next. He asked the Council members if any of them had read the December 17 contract with Baker. He said that they (the Council) had failed to do their part. They did not provide a performance evaluation. They did not find any unsatisfactory performance. They failed to hold quarterly sessions to review progress towards meeting Council goals. “You failed, not Mr. Baker” Arbuckle said. “Every one of you should resign. You were derelict in your duties”
Ernie Platt, Chair of the Code Committee, was next. He was visibly upset. “I am at a loss for words” he said. This city is at the “height of embarrassment, and it gets worse every day. Adios.”
Katherine Ruthruff, Chair of the City Planning Commission spoke next. She mentioned she was a 5th generation descendent of Damascus homesteaders. She had worked on planning issues, including city formation, since 1998. She said ‘disincorporation will now happen, and your sandbox will be taken away.”
Richard Johnson, in his testimony, said he had never said anything negative before the City Council. But that this was a sad day for Damascus. He quoted a Biblical passage, King Solomon, Proverbs 29:2.
“The people of Damascus” Johnson said, are now grieving and sighing.”
This was the end of the public testimony. The Council began debate, though the outcome was already clear. Councilor Randy Shannon, who was teleconferenced into the meeting, said we were in this regrettable position for only one reason. “Retribution against the City Manager for following our policies.” He said this action was caused by Mayor Spinnett and Council President Jackman, abetted by 2 other councilors. “This was a sad state of affairs.”
Councilor Wehr complained that he had only gotten a call about the proposed settlement an hour before the (Friday May 24th) meeting. He did not mention any concerns about Baker leaving, but expressed concern about releasing “15% of the City’s cash assets” (the amount to settle the matter.) He asked for more time to review documents and absorb this.
Councilor Jim Deyoung spoke next. He said “this is a historic moment for Damascus. But not in a good or positive sense.” He told the audience that 3 council members were against the effort to put pressure on Baker to resign. He said this action was “without merit, justice or fairness.” It will provoke disincorporation, and made this a dark day. He added that “every cloud has a silver lining.” Perhaps this action would spur the people of Damascus to find better leadership. That Baker had been the most capable manager the City had had. He had served well and was committed to getting the plan done. Mr. DeYoung said he remained “hopeful for a better day.”
DeYoung also offered a heartfelt apology to Mr. Baker for failing to do his part as a Council member. He said he personally had failed.
Councilor Westcott said she was voting to approve the agreement, but “no in my heart,” and this would be her last act on the Council. That she would now resign. And with that she left the meeting.
The vote was 5-2 in favor of the severance agreement. Councilor’s Shannon and Wehr voted no. O’Brien, Jackman, Deyoung, Westcott and Spinnett voted yes. And with that the Mayor closed the meeting.
Some area residents arrived at Damascus City Hall’s May 20th meeting to show their support of Greg Baker, the Damascus City Manager. Small posters with Baker’s image were quietly raised from time to time throughout the council meeting.
During the Citizen Comment period several people took the opportunity to speak. Three minutes at a time, Dan Phegley continued a several month long barrage of discontent. Others came forward to thank and commend the work of the City Manager, and city staff.
David Gleason, a member of the city’s budget committee, explained the necessary but painful process of going line by line through the budget. Gleason directed the end of his comment period towards Mayor Spinnett, by saying how difficult it is to guess how much city money should be set aside for legal defense before the buzzer sounded.
After the meeting Mr. Gleason confirmed he did have more to say. Gleason said he wanted to add, “So given the tens of thousands of dollars of legal expenses the mayor and his wife have cost the city during this budget year, Mr. Mayor, you would be the one person best to know how much we should add for non-ordinary legal costs for the next budget cycle.”
Moving to council business the mayor questioned city employee Steve Gaschler, Public Works Director, about the CH2MHill contract extension. Council passed the extension.
Council also voted to appoint Lynn Kellas to the Planning Commission. After a review of several hundred pages of Development Code Mayor Spinnett then removed the public audience and led the council to privately consider the dismissal or possible disciplinary action against someone only publicly identified on the evenings paper agenda as a city employee, public officer, individual agent, or staff member.
There has not been an official announcement regarding the outcome of this proceeding.
- Move our repurposed planter into place
- Get a few loads of dirt dumped into planter
- Move stage materials to site from near Firehouse
- Who knows what else we might come up with!!
- A pickup truck and/or trailer to come along for the fun (if you can help with a pickup but at a different time, please let us know and we will try to work it out with you!)
- Muscles to make an appearance
- Well-stocked tool boxes eager to help
- Volunteer to make a run (or two!) to Mr. Tree (8560 SE 172nd Ave.) and bring a load of bark chips to our Market Site – this can be done at any time that is convenient for you! We will be thrilled to see mountains of bark chips upon our arrival!
- Some Tools
- Smiles & Good Cheer
- We have mucho posters to be shared with our community – Contact me to find out how I can get them to you!! We are trying to track where we put posters on a Google Map – please let me or Market Manager Alicia (firstname.lastname@example.org) know if you would like to access this map to pin locations, or if you would like us to keep track for you.
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