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Talent names McLeod-Skinner interim city manager

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who was city manager in Phoenix during 2016 and 2017 and later ran for the 2nd District congressional seat and secretary of state, has been chosen by Talent City Council to become Talent’s interim city manager.

At a special meeting Tuesday, the council directed completion of a contract with McLeod-Skinner that calls for her to begin employment Jan. 1 and to serve for a six-month period. She will succeed Sandra Spelliscy, whose last day is Jan. 4.

Talent faces the challenge of recovering from the Almeda fire, which destroyed businesses and nearly 700 residences Sept. 8. In addition, McLeod-Skinner will face filling top management positions due to resignations and friction between city employees and elected city leaders.

For the recovery McLeod-Skinner brings experience from her work in another disaster zone. From 1996 to 1998 she was a reconstruction and program manager in Bosnia and Kosovo and she led a Lutheran services organization from 2000 to 2002. McLeod-Skinner graduated from Ashland High School, and one of her friends lost a home in the Almeda fire.

“I see my job as helping the city through a challenging time, making sure the city has access to all the resources possible,” McLeod-Skinner said Wednesday. She compared the work to that of a relay team and said it’s her time to carry the baton.

“People want to lean in and help out sometimes, but don’t know what to do,” McLeod-Skinner told the council. “A part of management is to step back and make things happen. The leadership is the mayor’s and councilors’ role.”

McLeod-Skinner envisions serving for six months, then returning to her home in Jefferson County where she practices law and runs a business that consults on land-use issues. She plans to present a list of viable candidates to fill the position permanently.

A severance agreement with Spelliscy was approved Dec. 11 by the City Council. The parties “have determined the need to sever the employment relationship,” the agreement states. Spelliscy will receive a severance payment of $48,133, the equivalent of five months salary.

In addition to Spelliscy’s resignation, Community Development Director Zac Moody became the third city administrator to resign in five months when he submitted his resignation in mid-December to become effective Jan. 19. Police Chief Tim Doney resigned in August.

In a letter of resignation Moody wrote Spelliscy’s sudden departure “along with current political environment in the city have allowed me to re-evaluate my career goals.”

Moody had earlier informed the council via emails that executive sessions the council was holding without Spelliscy present raised concerns about her possible departure, a move that would hinder resolution of frictions with staff.

On Jan. 6 the council will review a facilitator’s report on employee morale and retention issues. Council in July had directed holding a facilitated joint meeting on how to improve staff morale issues. Sara Singer Wilson prepared the report.

Among findings in the organizational assessment, based on employee interviews, are that the city work team felt better connected due to Spelliscy’s leadership style, some elected officials create instability and fear throughout the organization, an intense political environment makes it difficult to do jobs, and there’s a perception that the council doesn’t trust or respect staff.

A request by 10 city union employees in July that Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood and Councilor Emily Berlant resign is also mentioned in the report. Other staff concerns are that projects and work are delayed months due to council deliberations and that there is a lack of focus on goals.

Several steps to move forward before a joint council/staff session is held are recommended by Wilson. Those include meetings with the mayor and two councilors who have not yet been interviewed, preparing a summary of themes from the council interviews and setting a date for a facilitated discussion.

In 2018 McLeod-Skinner ran against 20-year incumbent Republican 2nd District Congressman Greg Walden. Her campaign drew 40% of the vote to Walden’s 56%, a strong showing in a district with greater Republican voter registration.

McLeod-Skinner was one of three candidates selected for further review by the council from six applicants for the interim post. The other two dropped out during the review process. One of those was former interim Talent city manager Dale Shaddox, who suggested he will likely be a candidate for the permanent position.

McLeod-Skinner will receive the same compensation as Spelliscy, whose monthly salary was $9,626 plus benefits. An option for renewal after the six-month period will be included in the contract. McLeod-Skinner said she plans to return to her Jefferson County home and family on weekends except when her presence is required by city obligations.

Contract details were discussed during the Tuesday session, which was attended by City Attorney Christy Monson.

Some of the contract discussion might have typically occurred in an executive session, said Ayers-Flood. But she said the council heard concerns from residents about a need for transparency after a number of executive sessions occurred recently.

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

Andrew Selsky / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE Jamie McLeod-Skinner stands next to her teardrop trailer in Redmond before setting off again on the campaign trail in Eastern Oregon when she campaigned for Oregon's 2nd Congressional District.{ }