GOLD HILL — Council members on Monday decided to pay a state ethics commission fine and half of public works director Royal Gasso's attorney costs related to charges that he misused a city vehicle.

GOLD HILL — Council members on Monday decided to pay a state ethics commission fine and half of public works director Royal Gasso's attorney costs related to charges that he misused a city vehicle.

The fine and fees stem from an ethics charge last year that Gasso had driven a city-owned truck for personal use in violation of state law. While the state found Gasso guilty, the commission indicated that the city's own policy allowed Gasso to use the vehicle.

All told, the city agreed to cover $950 — the entire cost of Gasso's $400 fine and half his nearly $1,100 attorney costs. The council considered two other proposals, one to pay all Gasso's expenses and the other to pay none.

"I personally felt that paying the fine was essential," said Councilman Mike Ely. "The entire original complaint was originated by a council member that, if there was any issue at all, would have been a personnel issue."

The complaints about Gasso's use of the car were presented to the ethics commission by recalled former Councilwoman Kathleen Price, who told council members this week that she'd report them to the ethics commission if they chose to pay Gasso's fine and attorney costs.

Ely, recently appointed spokesperson for the council, said the decision was based on the fact the majority of council members felt Gasso was found guilty by the state for driving a city vehicle in a manner in which he'd been permitted to do so per official city policy. Price disagreed.

"He was found guilty and fined $400 by the government ethics standards," she said. "I am furious and I warned them that each and every one of them that voted to pay his fine, including Royal, that I'm putting a complaint back into the ethics commission."

Price noted that the maximum allowable fine by the state was raised, effective Jan. 1, from $1,000 to $5,000.

Ely voiced frustration with what he called ongoing efforts by Price to threaten the city's standing with its insurance company and prevent any progress in the city because of the focus on Gasso.

"Unfortunately when the voting on City Council didn't go how she wanted, she elected to escalate a personnel issue to the state ethics commission," Ely said. "This destructive political wrangling has caused problems in the past and continues to do so. We can't operate on threats. It should be about what's best for the city.

"I would certainly hope Mrs. Price would consider the needs of the city before she attempts to force council members into voting the way she would prefer on a given issue."

Gasso stood by the notion that the city agreed to pay his fine and attorney fees because the city's policy caused the problem.

He added, "I just wish Kathleen Price, a sitting council member at the time, if she had discovered something might conflict with a government regulation, would have corrected it instead of filing a complaint with an ethics commission," he said.

"She and her fellow council members were policymakers at the time and they could have dealt with it. Going to the state with it is like filing a complaint against yourself — so now they're paying the fine."

Councilwoman Judi Holdeman joined Councilman Robert Ashton in voting against paying Gasso's fine.

"He acts like he's in trouble because he was given the city vehicle and he wasn't supposed to be, but he used the vehicle for personal trips, and his behavior puts the city at risk," she said. "Somebody needs to be willing to manage him and make him accountable, and nobody does. Shame on the City Council and shame on Royal Gasso."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.