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RVTD, Coleman reach endof the line

The Rogue Valley Transportation District board of directors Friday placed General Manager Sherrin Coleman on paid, administrative leave until her contract expires Dec. 31 and appointed finance director Yvonne Fletes to the post.

This is the biggest mistake this particular board has made, and that's a tall order, said board member Edwin Chapman, a supporter of Coleman who cast the only dissenting vote.

But the rest of the board agreed that it was high time to move forward by placing Coleman on paid leave.

There's too much angst in the district right now, said board member Susan McKenzie. We need to get back to being a transit district and not a political action committee.

Coleman will remain an RVTD employee with full benefits, including the use of a van customized for her disability, until her contract ends.

The RVTD board rejected Coleman's contract renewal in June without discussion. That decision sparked widespread protest and an effort to recall five of the six board members. Elections officials announced Thursday that the recall failed because supporters failed to gather enough valid signatures.

Supporters of Coleman already have launched a second attempt to gather signatures and recall the RVTD board. Chapman is not named in the recall.

The decision to place its general manager on paid leave was sparked by Coleman's earlier refusal to negotiate a settlement, according to board chair Eva Avery.

The board made the offer at the advice of a human resources firm that conducted confidential interviews with the board, staff and Coleman.

We feel we need a change now, Avery said. It's time to get back to the business of the district.

The RVTD board held an executive session (a meeting closed to the public) prior to voting on Coleman's employment.

During the members' closed-door meeting, McKenzie and Carol Bennett attempted to discuss Coleman's job performance ' both before her contract renewal was rejected and after ' which both women defined as poor.

RVTD attorney Martial Henault advised board members that Coleman's job performance could not be discussed during the closed meeting, and that the media could report on that subject if such talk continued.

After the board voted, Coleman asked the board to publicly state their reasons for rejecting her contract renewal in June.

I would like to know why not one of you came to me and voiced any concerns before this, Coleman said.

Kay Harrison and Avery both told Coleman they had approached her with concerns regarding communication between staff and the board.

Mary Wooding alleged that Coleman told her to stay away from employees and act like a rubber stamp in the past.

Coleman denied the conversation ever took place.

Board member Carol Bennett said earlier this year that Coleman allowed and encouraged a staff member to shout at the board during a public meeting, and said Coleman's behavior regarding the incident was inappropriate.

Chapman interjected and told Bennett she should listen to the tapes, and the situation she was describing did not take place.

McKenzie said Coleman repeatedly ignored requests for additional information regarding district business. She also said Coleman's behavior was disingenuous.

You failed to provide me with information, McKenzie told Coleman. I will not accept ad-libbed staff reports.

The discussion marked the first time the board spoke about their decision behind Coleman's contract rejection.

Before agreed to appoint Fletes as an interim general manger, Bennett suggested appointing retired RVTD employee Gary Nelson. Nelson is also an active member of Amalgamated Transit Union 757.

Chapman asked why Bennett chose Nelson and not RVTD maintenance and operations manager Tim D'Alessandro, whose job description allows him to fill in for the district's general manager.

D'Alessandro is a chief petitioner in the efforts to recall the RVTD board.

Bennett would not comment or answer Chapman's question.

One audience member pointed out that Bennett is a Central Point union member who has lobbied to unionize RVTD's TransLink service, and called unethical Bennett's support of Nelson as general manager.

The board began discussing other options before voting to appoint Fletes.

McKenzie did not vote to appoint Fletes because she was concerned the finance director would be too busy to cope with the added duties.

Fletes ' a 12-year RVTD veteran and Eagle Point resident ' said she was shocked at the news, but added that she would accept the position on a temporary basis.

The board agreed to give Fletes a 5 percent pay increase.

We all love Sherrin Coleman and I think we all regret things couldn't work out, said Fletes, who would not comment about the board's decision.

We work for the public. We all need to remember that, she added.

Several board members spoke in favor of hiring an assistant manager to help Fletes, but no action was taken. The issue may be discussed at a future meeting.

Reach reporter Jill Briskey at 776-4485, or e-mail