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City official accused of harassing females

A Gold Hill city employee and a budget committee member have filed complaints against City Manager Rick Hohnbaum, alleging he repeatedly unzipped his pants and exposed his underwear in front of women — and they say the City Council has failed to do anything about it.

City Recorder Mary Goddard alleged in a complaint to the state Bureau of Labor and Industries that after she told elected officials about his behavior, Hohnbaum retaliated against her with disciplinary actions for taking two sick days and for incorrect wording on a time-off form, moved his desk to another office with a direct view of her desk and "came to my desk and scratched his genitals in my face."

Hohnbaum, former Reedsport city manager who was hired by Gold Hill in January 2013, acknowledged that a complaint had been filed against him but said city officials were advised by the city's insurance provider not to talk about it until after the investigation by BOLI.

City budget committee member Deb West also reported concerns about Hohnbaum's behavior. In a letter to city officials dated Aug. 18, West accused the council of a "lack of appropriate action concerning Hohnbaum's inappropriate, unethical, unprofessional conduct and most especially his abusive personal interactions to citizens in town and employees of the City of Gold Hill."

West alleged in the letter that Hohnbaum exposed his underwear to her, too: "He unzipped and turned his back and dropped his pants — tucked in his shirt. Then pulled his pants back up, zipped back up — all as if this were normal activity when a community member enters his office to meet with him."

Goddard's complaint, filed on Oct. 22 with BOLI's Civil Rights Division and the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, stated she told Mayor Jan Fish and Council President Donna Silva on June 16 that she was being sexually harassed by Hohnbaum.

"I informed them that he constantly would unzip, open his pants and expose his underwear to me," she wrote. "... Further, I informed them that he behaves this way on multiple occasions towards other women that come into the office."

Fish told Goddard she would inform Hohnbaum of Goddard's complaints and that he would do an investigation, according to the complaint.

Goddard wrote that she reported Hohnbaum's alleged retaliation against her to Fish and Silva on multiple occasions but "no corrective action was taken." She also wrote that the city's insurance company conducted an investigation in June but she was not notified of its outcome or whether any action was taken.

West said she was aware of contentious work conditions between Hohnbaum and city employees and felt "very concerned" over the length of time Goddard had been forced to continue working in an uncomfortable situation.

"The council just acts like he's doing this wonderful job, while they're oblivious to the damage he's doing — and has done — to the city here."

Fish said she could not discuss specifics of the complaint until the case was resolved.

"It was received. It will be dealt with," she said. "The city is taking the stance that anything like this, any sort of allegations amongst employees, has to be taken seriously and we are taking it very seriously."

Councilwoman Chris Stanley said she was unable to comment specifically on the BOLI complaint but does have concerns over how employees are treated at City Hall.

"Employees' words fall on deaf ears," Stanley said in a message to the Mail Tribune. "There are people that sit on the council that refuse to believe anything said against Mr. Hohnbaum. Those same people have willingly given him all of their power, so even when one would question his actions the end result is that we can do nothing.

"The council needs to see the bigger picture of what is going on and what they have unleashed on our community and employees."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.