The city of Medford cannot legally hide from the public how much it paid Medford Fire-Rescue Chief Dave Bierwiler as part of an agreement it used to fire him in April, Jackson County's district attorney ruled Monday.
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 them 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 nondisclosure 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 Monday afternoon.
Bierwiler said Monday 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."
Heckert's ruling involved four paragraphs, labeled A-D, that city officials redacted when releasing the three-page termination agreement to the Mail Tribune on Aug. 16.
In her ruling, Heckert said those paragraphs include information of Bierwiler's last date of employment, wages, accrued vacation, holiday leave "and the settlement amount." She did not elaborate.
When he announced his abrupt retirement in March after 24 years of heading the department, Bierwiler said he was leaving for personal reasons and that he was taking accrued time off before his official retirement April 30.
However, the redacted copy of that termination agreement obtained in August by the Mail Tribune following a public records request revealed he was placed on paid administrative leave by Swanson on March 15.
Bierwiler told the Mail Tribune in August that he believed he was fired because he did not support the idea of Medford Fire-Rescue consolidating services with Jackson County Fire District No. 3. Swanson at the time called Bierwiler's assertion the product of "an active imagination" but declined to expand on the city's reasons for firing Bierwiler.
Medford Fire-Rescue and District 3 have been in the early stages of looking into shared management, purchasing and training. No concrete proposals have been announced by either department.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at email@example.com.