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Talent city manager details 'irregularities'

Claims that the relationship between the city of Talent and the Talent Urban Renewal Agency is “blurred,” a charge leveled by TURA’s executive director, drew sometimes contentious responses from members of TURA’s board of directors at its meeting Wednesday.

Sandra Spelliscy, TURA director and also Talent city manager, raised concerns about possible legal and financial irregularities, lack of agreements between the two entities, and impact of TURA work on her city responsibilities. She requested to resign immediately, but be appointed interim director until Dec. 31 to help resolve issues.

TURA directors, who are also City Council members, unanimously voted to enter into a contract with a human resources consultant to begin recruiting a new director. They did not accept the resignation, and Spelliscy will remain in place. They also did not act on her recommendation to hire a consultant to review the issues she had raised.

Spelliscy took exception to an assertion by board Chairwoman Darby Ayers-Flood that Spelliscy’s actions “seem unconscionable.” Ayers-Flood retracted and apologized for the remark. Ayers-Flood is also the city’s mayor.

Public disclosure of her findings was “a professional, moral and ethical obligation,” Spelliscy said. Director John Harrison commended Spelliscy for bringing the issues to the board, saying they were things they needed to hear.

Spelliscy and city staff conducted research into city and agency interactions and agreements over the last two weeks. Among their findings:

  • No approved agreement could be found that covers changes in the relationship between TURA and the city that took place in 2015. An amendment to a 2004 intergovernmental agreement was discussed but never adopted, research showed.
  • Detailed invoices for reimbursement to the city for TURA expenses, including employee hours, were not attached to records. Research shows that payment of $100,000 for “administrative services” was made during fiscal year 2017-18 to the city but lacked specificity.

“At this point I’m operating on the idea we don’t have an actual operating agreement between the city and TURA,” said Spelliscy. “I’m questioning, has the city been fairly compensated or has TURA been giving money away?”

Board member Stephanie Dolan said Spelliscy’s report, which was emailed to the board Tuesday evening, was a “bombshell.”

Because something wasn’t found in records doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, said Dolan. Both the city and TURA went through “exhaustive and transparent” budget processes that made it clear how money was being allocated, she said.

After getting the report, Ayers-Flood said she listened to audio recordings that indicated an agreement amendment was discussed in 2015.

“These are city problems for the most part,” said Ayers-Flood. She and board members discussed approaching the city’s legal representatives and auditors to begin to look at the claims.

Governance of TURA by a separate board ended in June 2015 when City Council assumed the role. Former City Manager Tom Corrigan was appointed agency executive director in August 2015 when 13-year executive director Marla Cates retired.

During 2016 and 2017, TURA acquired the 4.23-acre site on the corner of Highway 99 and West Valley View Road, paying $1.875 million for three lots. The agency developed plans for what became the Gateway project and issued a request for proposals in September 2017.

Corrigan was placed on leave by the city in November 2017 and subsequently relieved of his duties. The agency functioned under an interim director before Spelliscy was named to the post in October 2018 after she became city manager in August.

Spelliscy worked to secure an agreement for development of Gateway with DOSO Properties, which had already been selected in the RFP process. Those negotiations ended in January with both parties saying they were not a good fit. A subsequent request for proposals developed by the board and TURA staff drew only one proposal, which the board has not approved.

The board and the executive director are not on the same page in bringing the Gateway project to fruition, Spelliscy said, adding impetus to her resignation request.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Talent City Hall