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Manager under review fires spokeswoman

A Medford Water Commission spokeswoman who was praised for her handling of the lead pipe issue was fired Friday by the agency's manager, Larry Rains, who is currently undergoing a performance review.

"I'm shocked," said commission board member Bob Strosser, who learned of the firing Friday afternoon. "I thought she was doing a good job. The reason for her termination — I'd like to understand why."

Sara Bristol, who was hired 10 months ago, has been the Water Commission's spokeswoman during a rough period when the agency grappled with ongoing questions about lead pipes found in the system.

"I have never seen anything but a concerted effort to do her job in the best possible manner for a hugely sensitive issue," said Strosser, a former Medford city councilman and candidate for county commissioner.

Other board members previously have praised Bristol's handling of the lead pipe issue and her ability to explain it to the public and media.

The board has urged staff to keep the public informed in as transparent a manner as possible, including disclosing several instances in which lead levels exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency action levels.

Shortly after the Water Commission became aware of lead pipes in the system, it started a performance review of Rains by Rudd Johnson of Crown Hill Consulting LLC in Medford.

The Mail Tribune has made a public record's request with the Water Commission for a copy of Rains' performance review.

At the next board meeting on Wednesday, Strosser said he will seek answers as to why Bristol was terminated.

Bristol said she was not given a reason for her dismissal and has not been disciplined for any actions during her time at the Water Commission. Bristol received a small raise after six months, bringing her salary to $57,000 annually.

"I can't say I was completely shocked, as there's been low morale throughout the company, ultimately forcing the board to step in," Bristol said.

Bristol, who credited the commissioners for acting swiftly once they became aware of the lead pipe issue, said it was a difficult and tense time for her as a new employee with a probationary status.

Calls to Rains' cellphone were not immediately returned Saturday.

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

Sara Bristol