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Assessor cites family, health

Former Jackson County Assessor Josh Gibson said he resigned the position Dec. 31 to spend more time with his children and because of health issues. He refused to say whether an incident last summer in which he was seen urinating in public during a golf outing played a role.

"As a public servant of the people, family and personal relationships frequently can take a back seat to being responsive to the needs of the public and the duties of a public office," he wrote in his resignation letter, submitted to the county Nov. 12.

"At this point in my life, I believe that it is time to refocus my attention onto my children and personal life. Remaining as County Assessor would not permit me to focus my attention on those who need it to the extent they deserve."

When asked by the Mail Tribune whether the golfing incident also played a role in his decision, Gibson refused to comment.

Gibson said he went golfing with several other assessor and appraisal professionals from around the state during the Oregon State Association of County Assessors 2015 Summer Conference, held Aug. 10-13 in Hood River. The group was composed of men and one woman, Jo Wright, who currently works as the chief deputy assessor for Jackson County.

Gibson acknowledged he urinated on the golf course, but denied rumors that he exposed himself.

"I did urinate in the bushes away from the group," he said in an email. "I will emphatically deny that anyone was exposed to my genitalia, but the group could probably tell that I was urinating."

Gibson said there were no bathrooms around, and in hindsight he should have waited or taken the golf cart somewhere to find a restroom.

Wright declined to comment about the incident or Gibson's resignation.

In an email to the Mail Tribune, Gibson said he continued to work at full capacity until Nov. 18, and then went in for surgery Nov. 19. As of late December, he said, he was still not cleared to return to work by his physician.

Gibson continued to collect his full annual salary of $99,674 through December, according to documents provided by the county after a public records request by the Mail Tribune.

Gibson said in an email that he continued to track his emails and phone messages while he was out, and also to work on a statewide project to revamp the appraiser education system.

Jackson County Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said he doesn't believe Gibson was pressured to resign because of the golf course incident.

"I encouraged Josh not to resign," Breidenthal said. "Josh is a good man who has done a great service to the people of Jackson County. ... It was unfortunate to see him resign the way he did. Sometimes people make mistakes. I'm not privileged to all his dealings, and why he chose to resign is entirely up to him. I've always had a lot of respect for Josh. It's not easy being under scrutiny all the time. The burden wears on people in public office."

Breidenthal, who is facing an ethics complaint and scrutiny of his travel spending, said doing the job of an elected official takes time away from family.

Following Gibson's resignation, Wright was tasked with performing the duties of the county assessor.

The assessor's office has faced turmoil in the past.

In 2011, longtime assessor Dan Ross abruptly resigned, citing a hostile work environment.

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said the county Budget Committee allocated funding for an additional manager in the assessor's office who could perform employee supervision and human resources functions.

Wright filled that post and helped smooth out personal relations between employees in the Assessor's Office, according to workers there.

She keeps the staff on track with meetings and training, said David Arrasmith, lead appraiser for the Assessor's Office.

Arrasmith is one of several county employees who has filed to run for assessor in the May election. Wright is not seeking the office.

Arrasmith said the office has been running smoothly and performing its work despite Gibson's absence and the temporary lack of an assessor.

"The assessor can come and go and the office won't lose a step," he said. "The office is able to flow from one assessor to another assessor — or operate without an assessor."

Arrasmith said Wright and Gibson both played a role in improving the Assessor's Office. He said employees were always getting their work done, but didn't always get along.

"The office was in disarray," Arrasmith said. "Now we respect each other and work with each other. The internal strife has faded away. With Josh walking away, we're still operating like we were when he was here."

Jackson County Lead Appraiser Angela Stuhr, who also has filed to run for assessor, said there were feelings of uncertainty as the office transitioned from Ross to Gibson.

She said the office now is very cohesive.

"Jo was instrumental in the changes," Stuhr said. "She worked with every staff member to determine their strengths and to develop the best plans for moving forward with our work. Josh had a lot to do with that, too. He had good ideas. He worked hard. He made some mistakes along the way, but not all organizational change goes smoothly."

Gibson said the "office was a chaotic mess when I inherited it."

Under his leadership, Gibson said, the office became more empathetic toward the citizens of the county, treating them with respect, listening to their stories and doing what it could to help them within the constraints of the law.

He said he worked at the state level to make tax laws more fair.

"I resigned because it was time for me to step aside," Gibson said in an email. "I did what I intended to do and that was to make this office more in tune with the public we serve."

While Breidenthal has expressed concern about the Assessor's Office being temporarily in the hands of a non-elected staff person, he said he is not questioning the skills or expertise of Wright or other staff members, who he said are doing "amazing work."

"I think Jo has done an incredible job bringing that office together," Breidenthal said. "She has held the office together in trying times. Her work has been exemplary."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.