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Gold Hill puts public works director on unpaid leave

GOLD HILL — The City Council voted Monday to place embattled Public Works Director Royal Gasso on 30 days of unpaid administrative leave after he was arrested Friday for possession of methadone and heroin and driving under the influence of intoxicants.

The council met in a special closed session to discuss Gasso's arrest — his second this year — and the 56-year-old's future with the city.

Council spokesman Mike Ely said in a written statement that the incident will be investigated and "the City will have no further comment on the matter until the investigation is completed."

An Oregon State Police trooper pulled Gasso over at about 7:30 p.m. Friday after observing the public works chief driving erratically along Highway 199.

After being detained for a urinalysis, Gasso was found to have methadone tablets and a small amount of heroin in his possession, according to an OSP report. It is not known whether Gasso had a prescription for the methadone.

A Breathalyzer test taken during the booking showed Gasso's blood alcohol level was .072, the report said, just under the state's .08 legal limit. Gasso was cited and released.

Gasso was arrested in February and cited for disorderly conduct when found intoxicated and belligerent as he stumbled along Highway 199 near Wonder.

After that arrest, Gasso opted to attend an outpatient alcohol treatment program, but said Monday he realized that was "not the right solution."

Gasso contacted the Mail Tribune to report he had decided to voluntarily and immediately sign himself into an in-patient treatment facility.

"Talking about drinking one day a week is not going to work for me," he said, adding that he regretted the impact the negative publicity had caused for his family.

"The city of Gold Hill can determine my worth as an employee. I've got medical insurance, sick leave and insurance. The bottom line is my family is more important than any job," Gasso said.

"I can find another job. I can't find another family."

When the Mail Tribune called Gasso for a follow-up question Monday afternoon, Gasso's voice mail said he would be out of the office until June 21.

Interim Mayor Gus Wolf declined to comment on Monday except to say Gasso was not driving a city vehicle at the time of his arrest Friday and was off duty. Council member Jan Fish did not immediately return a call from the Mail Tribune.

The subject of a slew of headlines over the years, Gasso was convicted in the 1980s in New York for possession of heroin with the intent to distribute.

According to court records, he had amassed several parole violations and a conviction in Jackson County of driving under the influence of intoxicants at the time.

As part of a federal drug sting in 2000, Gasso pleaded guilty to attempting to possess heroin, a felony, and was sentenced to 18 months of probation and 40 hours of community service.

Because it was a parole violation, Gasso spent time in federal prison but continued to work for the city of Gold Hill, processing grant applications and doing paperwork.

More recently, a state ethics panel ruled Gasso had violated the law when he drove a city-owned vehicle between home and work. City officials admitted that city policy had allowed the vehicle use and council members opted to pay Gasso's legal fees and the state fine.

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

Royal Gasso