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City manager fired

The Medford City Council on a 6-2 vote Thursday fired City Manager Eric Swanson, effective immediately.

"I do not feel Eric is honest, I do not trust Eric," Councilor Dick Gordon said. "I have found him very disrespectful."

Gordon made the motion to remove Swanson from office, seconded by Councilor Chris Corcoran, at the noon meeting.

Councilors said they felt Swanson was trying to manage the council rather than the council managing him. They also cited ongoing issues between Swanson and Travel Medford as a reason for his termination. Swanson spoke for a few minutes, but after the vote was cast, Corcoran asked him to leave the council chambers.

Gordon, who briefly commended Swanson for moving various civic building projects forward, said he'd had confrontations with Swanson in the past and had found him difficult to work with.

On one occasion, he said he requested Swanson read the background information provided with City Council agenda packets, known as agenda item commentary.

"Eric got in my face and said, 'I'm not going to read the AIC's,'" Gordon said.

Gordon said he'd made up his mind some time ago that Swanson should leave, but added the latest dust-up over Travel Medford exposed more of Swanson's flaws.

The council in May demanded more accountability and more separation between Travel Medford and the Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. Many council members cited the political nature of the chamber as one of the main reasons for the call for separation. 

Councilors in May expressed frustration over what one member described as a battle of wills between Swanson and the chamber over Travel Medford, which provides marketing support for the city's travel industry and receives about $750,000 annually from a 25 percent share of the lodging taxes levied by the city.

Gordon said Swanson was difficult to work with in general and had a fixed view on issues.

"It's basically his way or the highway," Gordon said.

Swanson was hired in summer 2012 at an annual salary of $145,008 to replace Mike Dyal. Before that, he was city manager in Roseburg for seven years.

"It's a huge letdown for me," Swanson said. "To be only three years into this is unfortunate."

Some councilors have been highly critical of Swanson's management style in the past, and for some time there had been rumblings in City Hall that the council might take a vote on firing the city manager. Swanson had been rebuked in job performance reviews.

Councilors on Thursday also criticized Swanson for shutting out department heads during the city's budget process so that issues about staffing levels in departments were not properly aired.

The city will need to choose an interim city manager while it searches for a replacement. Previously, Deputy City Manager Bill Hoke was interim city manager while the city went through a lengthy recruitment process.

"I hate that we're here," Corcoran said. "It's going to be on all of us (to determine) what kind of city manager we're going to bring in."

Councilor Tim Jackle, who said he personally liked Swanson, said the council has been at odds over the city manager for some time.

"There is way too much disconnect between the will of the council and what's been done," he said.

Councilor Eli Matthews said, "There is too much control in the city manager's office and not enough collaboration." 

Councilor Kevin Stine, who joined the council in January, said he came into office attempting to not prejudge Swanson.

Nevertheless, he said that one quote from a fellow councilor stuck in his mind during a review of Swanson last year: "I have warning bells in me that I and the City Council are being managed by Eric Swanson." The quote was obtained through a public records request by the Mail Tribune, but the name of the councilor who said it was redacted by the city.

Mayor Gary Wheeler, who was noticeably shaken by the vote, said he had an entirely different feeling about Swanson than other councilors.

"My interface with Mr. Swanson has been nothing but open and honest," he said. "I don't see any integrity issues."

Wheeler said the discontent over Swanson has been brewing for about two years.

He said he wanted to take some of the blame himself for not getting ahead of some issues, most notably over Travel Medford.

Councilor Daniel Bunn, who joined with Councilor Clay Bearnson in voting against firing Swanson, said he didn't have any misgivings in his dealings with Swanson.

"I'm not there yet," he said.

Bearnson, who joined the council in January, said he's seen Medford move in a positive direction lately and attributed some of that to the city manager.

"In the past couple of years, this town is getting better," he said.

Swanson spoke for a few minutes before the council made its vote, but he'd already heard from a majority of councilors that they were going to vote against him.

"I understand some of the concerns," Swanson said. "I take exception with some of these issues about trust and honesty and personal integrity."

He attributed some of the concerns about his management style to personality conflicts.

Swanson said the city went through a lot of time and effort to pick him as a city manager, and he said he made a strong commitment to the city in taking the job.

He said he stands behind his accomplishments, which include the upcoming construction of new police and fire stations.

He said he took exception to a comment made toward him recently by Gordon regarding his supposed battle of wills with the chamber, though Swanson didn't reference Gordon specifically.

"There were comments made toward me that I think were outside of the decorum of any city council," Swanson said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.

City Manager Eric Swanson has been fired after three years with Medford.