DA rules that city can't keep fire chief's termination agreement secret

The city of Medford cannot legally withhold from the public how much it paid Medford Fire-Rescue Chief Dave Bierwiler as part of an agreement they used to fire him in April, Jackson County's district attorney ruled today.

Beth Heckert ordered the city to disclose financial and other information from the termination agreement that it previously denied the Mail Tribune. The paper had appealed the city's decision to Heckert last month.

In a letter to Heckert, City Attorney John Huttl argued the city had the right to deny public disclosure of four parts of the termination agreement because disclosing would be an unreasonable invasion of Bierwiler's privacy and because both parties agreed to a confidentiality clause.

In her two-page opinion, Heckert first ruled that revealing the city's payouts to Bierwiler was not an unreasonable invasion of his privacy.

"The public does have a legitimate interest to see how Chief Dave Bierwiler was compensated," Heckert wrote.

She also ruled that a non-disclosure clause City Manager Eric Swanson and Bierwiler signed as part of that agreement does not qualify as an exemption under the Oregon Public Records Act.

If the city were allowed to use the exemption in this case, "any time the City didn't want information disclosed, it could be agreed upon to include a confidential clause," Heckert wrote.

The city has seven days to turn over a complete copy of the termination agreement or appeal Heckert's ruling in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Huttl and Swanson did not return telephone calls seeking comment this afternoon.

Bierwiler said that he does not consider the release of the financial terms of the agreement to be an unreasonable invasion of his privacy.

"I don't have a problem with the public knowing how their money is spent," Bierwiler said. "It's their money."

— Mark Freeman

Read more in Tuesday's paper.

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