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Medford mayor praises fired city manager

Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler heaped praise on former City Manager Eric Swanson during a council meeting Thursday — a month after Swanson was fired and ordered to leave the council chambers.

“It was my pleasure to work with Eric Swanson,” Wheeler said. “He was an asset to the city of Medford and his positive oversight helped bring Medford into the 21st century.”

The mayor, reading aloud a July 14 letter of reference for Swanson, extolled the former city manager at the end of the meeting, but none of the councilors made any comment.

“When Eric was hired, it was refreshing to see the enthusiasm in him for our city,” Wheeler said. “He was instrumental in assisting four major corporate headquarters with relocating into downtown Medford.”

The mayor’s letter was written as part of a termination deal between Swanson and the city. The Mail Tribune obtained a copy of the agreement on Friday after making a public records request.

Swanson, who received $80,000 as a severance package, including back pay and other benefits, received an additional $12,084 as part of the settlement agreement, signed by Swanson on July 6 and by City Manager Pro Tem Bill Hoke on July 8.

The termination agreement also has a clause that forbids councilors, city staff or Swanson from making disparaging comments about each other.

Swanson was fired on June 4 in a 6-2 vote.

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

Councilors said they felt Swanson tried 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 after he was fired, but once the vote was cast, Corcoran forcefully asked him to leave the council chambers.

Two weeks later, Corcoran apologized for the manner in which he treated Swanson.

“I regret my choice of terminology when I asked him to remove himself from the dais,” Corcoran said. “I’m sorry.”

Swanson was hired in summer 2012 at an annual salary of $145,008. He didn’t get a raise during his almost three years in office, though he did get an increase in his retirement account and his vehicle allowance.

Swanson, who lives in Medford with his wife and children, said he’d prefer to seek the high ground on this issue.

“I understand I’m an at-will employee,” he said. “There were things that the city manager and the council were not in alignment on. That happens from time to time. It’s nobody’s fault.”

Swanson, 53, is looking for another job, and while he said he would prefer to live in the Medford area, he said he might have to move somewhere else.

“My family's really flourished here,” he said. “But I’m the sole breadwinner for my family.” Swanson has six children, three of whom live at home. The other three are pursuing their careers.

A public employee for more than 30 years, Swanson said he worked five to eight years at most of his jobs.

“It’s important that we all move forward,” he said. “I appreciated the mayor’s words of recognition about all the positive things that were happening.”

The mayor’s letter, which wasn’t signed by other councilors, described Swanson’s achievements over the past three years, including the development of the city’s five-year strategic plan.

During his term in office, Wheeler said Swanson oversaw completion of Pear Blossom Park, the One West Main corporate office, U.S. Cellular Community Park, construction of a new police headquarters, design for the new fire stations and renovation of Hawthorne Park.

Councilors have agreed not to discuss Swanson’s firing during a cooling-off period.

Councilor Kevin Stine said he would have no comment about the letter Wheeler read into the record on Thursday.

Wheeler, contacted by the Mail Tribune about the letter on Friday, said, “I said all I could say yesterday.”

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

Swanson Termination Agreement by Mail Tribune

Mayor Gary Wheeler's reference letter for Eric Swanson by Mail Tribune