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Two Gold Hill council members walk out

GOLD HILL — Two of the four City Council members present for Monday's meeting resigned and walked out, leaving the remaining two unable to conduct city business.

Robert Ashton and Judi Holdeman, who both opposed a decision by other council members to pay a state ethics fine for Public Works Director Royal Gasso, resigned in protest of the decision to support Gasso.

With Jan Fish absent from her council seat for the night, Ashton and Holdeman's departure left council members Gus Wolf and Mike Ely short of a quorum, the majority of the council that's required by law to conduct a meeting.

In their resignation letters, Holdeman and Ashton voiced frustration with the council's decision to pay Gasso's fine and part of his attorney costs.

Both won council seats as write-in candidates in November 2006. Ashton and Holdeman had called for Gasso's resignation and replacement of the remaining council members.

"I no longer want to serve on this council where sitting council members refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem with a city employee, do nothing to manage him or bring him under any form of control, and I get threatened by a lawsuit by a city employee," Holdeman wrote in the letter she read at Monday's meeting.

Holdeman said she got a letter from Gasso's attorney after asking pointed questions at a meeting. The letter said Gasso would take legal measures against her if she insisted on pursuing a "policy of harassment," she said.

Holdeman said Tuesday her resignation was "in protest over the way everything's going."

"It's not right," she said. "Royal has no control and when I tried to do something to make sure he's accountable, I get a letter from his attorney."

Ashton said his resignation letter said what he felt needed saying.

"I have information for anybody that wants proof of what we've said," he said. "The fact of the matter is what we've stated has been true."

Ely said Monday's council meeting was packed with people eager to participate in city government who were thwarted when Ashton and Holdeman walked out.

Ely said he felt the two resignations were tendered because "two people didn't get their way" who lacked an understanding of democratic process.

"I think it became obvious to the two councilors who resigned last night that they weren't going to get what they wanted," Ely said.

"Rather than move forward, they decided to pack up and move on. At this point, it's up to the three remaining council members to maintain some semblance of government for the next few months."

Ely said the council would likely set a special meeting in coming weeks to discuss the council's three vacancies. The city is also short a mayor. Dan Morris resigned in December, saying he was leaving town to pursue work.

While Holdeman, who was initially the council president, was slated to take over for Morris, the council opted to name longtime council member Gus Wolf as council president instead, in order for him to help manage the city until an election can be held to elect a new mayor.

Residents interested in filling the two empty council seats until an election can be called should contact city hall, at 855-1525.

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