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Talent council undecided on commissioner removal

Talent City Council ran out of time Wednesday, Aug. 19, to decide whether it will move forward with the removal of Planning Commission Chair Joi Riley over allegations of misconduct, which include improper ex-parte contacts and defamatory communication about city employees.

City Manager Sandra Spelliscy had recommended the council begin the process. An ethics complaint brought by Riley against Spelliscy was dismissed by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission Aug. 7.

After extending the meeting twice, no councilor made a motion to proceed, and the meeting ended at 9:51 p.m. with no action on the recommendation. The meeting was conducted electronically using Zoom.

“I thought it was going to be over last night. I thought people were supporting a principle,” Riley said Thursday. “I thought everybody knew what retaliation to a whistle-blower looked like.”

A council decision to proceed would have been the second step in the process, which began with Spelliscy preparing the staff recommendation, said City Attorney Ross Williamson. The next step would be preparation of a written document detailing Riley’s alleged nonperformance and misconduct. A public hearing would then be held where Riley could tell her side of the story.

After a hearing, the mayor could make a motion to proceed with removal, which would require consent of the council, Williamson said. He said it would not be appropriate to consider the merits of the allegations during the Wednesday meeting, because Riley would not have time to prepare and present her position.

As the clock wound down, Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood asked the council to dismiss the question of moving forward with proceedings, but no councilor did so. Ayers-Flood coupled her request with a call for better training of citizens who serve on committees and commissions and for creation of defined city policies, including ones that cover discipline.

“What our city is missing is a process for discipline. It has not gone unnoticed by the council,” said Ayers-Flood. “I have often been asked what are the standards of conduct.”

Riley said she thought the lateness of the session, with people being tired, contributed to the inability to reach a decision. Councilors had participated in a study session that began at 6 p.m.

Spelliscy alleged that Riley had inappropriate ex-parte contact with City Hearings Officer Roger Pearce over an appeal he heard July 22 on revocation of the conditional use permit for the Grateful Meds cannabis operation by the Planning Commission in January. Spelliscy wrote that Riley also had inappropriate contact in another appeals case.

“This is not an action being taken by staff alone, but based on comments made by a number of people,” said Spelliscy. That included concerns raised by city councilors, she said. In her memo, Spelliscy wrote that an Aug. 4 email by Riley was defamatory and contained allegations of professional misconduct and moral turpitude regarding a city employee.

In the email sent to Pearce and others, Riley claimed that Community Development Director Zac Moody had lied to the hearings officer, claiming he had written minutes of the January meeting after listening to recordings of the session. But at a February meeting, Moody had told the commission there was not an audio recording of the part of the meeting covering the revocation of the permit, Riley wrote.

Council met in executive session for 88 minutes to discuss privileged communication with Williamson prior to resumption of the regular meeting at 9:12 p.m.

Councilor Eleanor Ponomareff questioned whether an executive session was necessary. Ponomareff also wanted the public to have a chance to offer input on use of city tax dollars to pursue the process. Ayers-Flood said she would not take public comment at the meeting.

Ponomareff also questioned Spelliscy about reference to a second instance of Riley allegedly bringing discredit to a city employee mentioned in the city manager’s memo. The councilor asked whether she was referring to a complaint Riley filed with the state Ethics Commission alleging that an organization Spelliscy’s husband heads benefited from preferential treatment in rental of a property owned by the city’s urban renewal agency.

Spelliscy declined to answer the question, stating that might involve the merits of the case, which the body had been advised not to discuss as it considered forwarding the process.

“I have mixed emotions on this very much. I know (Riley) would like to state her side. I’d like to hear her side,” said Councilor John Harrison.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Sept. 2.

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

Photo courtesy cityoftalent.org