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Gold Hill officials support troubled public works director

GOLD HILL — City officials maintained support for Public Works Director Royal Gasso Tuesday, following his arrest over the weekend on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Gasso, 56, of Grants Pass, was taken to the Josephine County Jail late Saturday and later released. A state trooper's report said Gasso was intoxicated and belligerent when he was found walking along Highway 199 near Wonder.

City officials released a statement soon after his arrest that stated Gasso had voluntarily agreed to complete an alcohol treatment program. He also apologized to his family, the city and his supporters.

While Gasso's critics cited his previous problems and embarrassing publicity for Gold Hill, city officials pointed to his long history of service to the city and an exemplary work record despite a troubled personal life.

Gasso said he offered to leave his job, but city officials rejected his offer.

"I'm really sorry to have embarrassed my family and my employer, but to be quite honest, I never believed when I was walking down the road that it would result in me being arrested for being intoxicated, or else I wouldn't have done it," he said.

"Let's face it. People who support me can say, 'Well he's colorful or whatever,' but I have a much harder time dealing with my family," he said.

Council spokesman Mike Ely said the council felt Gasso's arrest on Saturday happened independent of his work responsibilities, but they would keep an eye on him.

"He seems to be aware of what it is he needs to do and the changes he needs to make," Ely said.

"Provided he's willing to follow through with that I'm supportive and I do wish him the best in his treatment program," Ely said. "I wish him every success."

The subject of numerous headlines over the years, Gasso was convicted in 1984 in New York for possession of heroin with the intent to distribute. According to court records, he has amassed several parole violations and a conviction in Jackson County for driving under the influence of intoxicants.

Gasso was arrested in 2000 in connection with a drug investigation, and sentenced to eight months in federal prison for violating the conditions of his probation for the heroin charge.

Ely said Gasso processed grant applications and other documents for the city while in prison, and he has never let his personal life interfere with his job performance. Gasso's weekend arrest came on the heels of the council's decision to pay a fine assessed by the state Government Standards and Practices Commission after Gasso was found to have violated state law by using a city vehicle for personal use.

On a split vote, the council agreed to pay his $400 fine and related attorney costs.

Two council members who opposed the decision, Judi Holdeman and Robert Ashton, resigned in protest last week. Former councilwoman Kathleen Price, another Gasso critic, has called him "a liability to the city of Gold Hill."

Price said she plans to file a complaint with the government practices commission against council members who voted to pay Gasso's fine. She said she was acting for the "good of the city" and nothing more.