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Ashland council votes to dismiss city administrator

Citing "a desire for new administrative leadership," the Ashland City Council voted at a special meeting Monday to terminate city Administrator Dave Kanner’s contract effective Wednesday, Nov. 30. 

Mayor John Stromberg raised concerns regarding Kanner in an executive session Monday night and then requested a full council vote as part of a following special business meeting. Kanner had been the city administrator for 4½ years.

Councilors Carol Voisin and Mike Morris voted against the termination. Morris said he could not support the mayor’s recommendation.

“I will not support the motion. I feel Mr. Kanner operated professionally and competently,” Morris said.

Voisin expressed concerns about how the issue arose.

“The process is flawed," she said. "It places too much trust in the mayor. I cannot put my trust in the mayor, I have to put it in the process and there wasn’t (a process).”

According to the City Charter, Article 13, Section 3, “The Mayor, with the consent of the Council, may suspend and remove any appointive officer at any time.” That includes the city administrator, city attorney and such other officers as the council deems appropriate.

Councilor Pam Marsh, who will soon leave the council to become a state representative, pointed to the recent election as her reason to support the mayor’s request in replacing the city administrator.

“We have a newly elected mayor chosen by voters with significant affirmation," Marsh said. "I extend my trust and confidence. Dave Kanner has done some important work and I don’t think anyone will say anything negative. But we need a different style of government.”

Stromberg expressed a desire for new administrative leadership in a joint statement from the mayor and Kanner released early Tuesday.

“Dave has been a strong, effective administrator, particularly in the areas of fiscal management, strategic planning and careful attention to detail," Stromberg said. "Now, however, we’ve mutually recognized that as the city enters an era of new and different challenges, it’s time for new administrative leadership of the city.”

Kanner reflected on his almost five years as city administrator, saying, “I’m proud to have helped guide the city in responding to significant management and fiscal challenges. ... Ashland’s outstanding quality of life has become an important part of my family’s life and we hope to find new ways to contribute to it.”

His termination agreement covers his medical care through the end of August and offers him $118,467.40 in severance pay. That buys out the remainder of his five-year contract, of which nine months remain.

The city will begin a recruitment process for a new city administrator. The mayor said it would be important in this process to encourage women and minorities to apply. In the meantime, Stromberg has requested Ashland Fire Chief John Karns be acting city administrator while the recruitment process is underway. Stromberg said the council will be asked in December to consider Karns as the interim administrator until a new person is hired.

Karns was originally hired by Stromberg in 2009 as fire chief.

The mayor also said he will continue the process of seeking a qualified chief financial officer, an open position which Kanner would have been responsible for filling.

Kanner served as deputy administrator in Jackson County from 2000 to 2006, when he became administrator for Deschutes County.

In August 2011, Kanner was fired from that job by county commissioners on a 2-1 vote.

He was praised in employee evaluations for his fiscal management of Deschutes County's government, honesty and integrity, but he was faulted for not having enough positive interactions with county employees, according to reports in the Bend Bulletin newspaper, which obtained evaluations of Kanner dating back to 2008.

Ashland councilors expressed support for Kanner’s work and service to the city of Ashland but suggested with the deep divisions in the current political climate and the complexity of issues coming forward it would be important to create a leadership more in line with those changes. They expressed appreciation for the competence of Kanner during his tenure.

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

Dave Kanner