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Embattled Gold Hill city manager shown the door

Gold Hill City Council handed embattled City Manager Rick Hohnbaum his walking papers during an open meeting Monday night.

Mayor Jan Fish confirmed that the council “voted not to renew Mr. Hohnbaum’s contract, which ends October 31.”

Fish said Hohnbaum would stop working immediately and would receive six months' salary as severance pay, but she would not comment further, citing legal concerns.

Prior to the vote on Hohnbaum's contract, the council filled two vacancies, with Zachariah Dell and Mark Warwick, both of whom were write-in candidates in the May 17 election.

With a full council, members Gus Wolf, Margaret Dials and Warwick voted against the motion not to renew Hohnbaum’s contract, while council president Donna Silva, Chris Stanley and Dell voted in favor of not renewing the contract. Fish broke the tie by voting for the motion.

Silva told the audience and Hohnbaum that she was “not firing Mr. Hohnbaum — we’re just parting ways.”

Dials said she felt ending the city’s contract with Hohnbaum would be “a major mistake for us to do right now.”

“We’ve got all kinds of things in the works right now and we’ve never held onto a city recorder or city manager for long enough to accomplish anything,” she said.

Fish said she broke the tie “with much regret,” while Dell said it was “pretty interesting” for his first order of business to vote on the manager’s contract.

Dell noted residents' concerns that the city had “spent $60,000 just to keep this guy out of hot water.”

“My number one goal is to be the one asking questions and creating a better dialogue within the town and figuring out where the money is being spent,” he said.

“One of the main things that I put in my letter out to everybody, and that the town voted me in under, was the idea City Hall was failing in its duties ... whether it’s true or not, if it's public opinion, then there’s an obvious communication breakdown.”

Dell's and Warwick’s write-in nominations were certified only hours before Monday’s meeting. Dell received 81 write-in votes, while Warwick snagged 29. Another two dozen names got one to two votes each, the Jackson County Clerk's Office said.

An audience member, who declined to be identified, said Hohnbaum “threw his keys on the table” just after the vote was taken.

Hohnbaum has been the subject of two state Bureau of Labor and Industries investigations as well as an Oregon Government Ethics Commission complaint. The commission found that Hohnbaum benefited monetarily from his involvement as city manager in guiding development of a whitewater park, for which his wife was being paid to write grants, and was fined $100.

BOLI investigators in April concluded that "substantial evidence" existed to support allegations that Hohnbaum retaliated against longtime City Recorder Mary Goddard after she accused him of sexual harassment.

The city was given 60 days from April 19 to work toward conciliation, but no outcome has been reported.

The city spent more than $60,000 on legal bills to represent Hohnbaum. Councilors have convened in closed session frequently in recent months, including at least one meeting in which Hohnbaum stopped them from convening to make a decision, claiming that the agenda did not include a time for the council to return to open session.

Following Monday’s meeting, despite being relieved of his duties, Hohnbaum logged into his city email account to respond to an email from Jackson County Sheriff’s Department Emergency Manager Sara Rubrecht about an earthquake drill coming up.

Hohnbaum replied to Rubrecht and 31 other recipients at 9:05 p.m., saying, “The shaking happened tonight, and I am no longer employed by the city of Gold Hill. I will not be attending.”

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.