Mayor, councilors refute role in city manager resignation
The resignation of Ashland City Manager pro tem Adam Hanks has revealed a rift among city councilors and the mayor’s office and prompted a scramble to determine how to fill the city manager post.
Hanks announced Wednesday that he will resign effective Aug. 6, one month after City Attorney David Lohman’s last day on the job.
Councilor Stephen Jensen claimed Mayor Julie Akins and two city councilors are at fault for critical staff members jumping ship, which all three refuted in a joint statement.
Jensen said dishonesty, aspersion toward staff members and irresponsible municipal governance put Hanks’ resignation “squarely” at their feet.
In a statement, Akins and councilors Shaun Moran and Gina DuQuenne said they relied upon Hanks’ and Lohman’s experience over the past six months and were “surprised by their decisions” to resign.
Akins, Moran and DuQuenne denied accusations they had been dishonest or personally attacked staff, and claimed Jensen “has been uncooperative in seeking ways for the council to work together.”
“The city attorney, David Lohman, retired like many people do,” DuQuenne said. “The audacity of Councilor Jensen to say false statements about my character is appalling and completely against the city code of conduct.”
Jensen said the mayor and councilors’ statements deflect from what staff have endured.
When asked what she does well and could improve as far as relationships with city staff, Akins said she frequently seeks input from the City Council on commission applications, listens to advice and endeavors to maintain a sense of humility.
“Whoever the new person in the chair is, after someone has occupied it for 12 years, that kind of change, there’s always going to be growing pains for everybody,” Akins said, referring to her mayoral term and the circumstances of a pandemic and recent change in form of governance. “It ain’t easy. There are some folks who are going to feel that there are things that I could do better, and I don’t blame them.”
Councilor Paula Hyatt said in the short time she came to know Hanks, he quickly showed invaluable insight and knowledge, and garnered respect from his peers.
“With two critical employees leaving recently, it brings to mind an early career lesson from a human resources expert: Employees leave managers, not companies,” Hyatt said, citing research that shows poor management is a key factor in employee turnover.
City staff seek professional fulfillment, respect and appreciation as valued team members — necessary characteristics of leadership for effective recruitment and retention, she said.
Councilor Tonya Graham said the staff who have ably navigated the city through concurrent emergency situations, including Hanks, “do not deserve to be disrespected as they have been.”
The urgency of filling the two positions to maintain essential services takes away from investing time in fiscal management, social equity, economic development, climate change, infrastructure and homelessness, she said.
“I am deeply saddened for our city by his departure, but I fully understand why he is leaving an organization he loves,” Graham said. “With Mr. Hanks’ departure, so soon after Mr. Lohman’s resignation, the city no longer has the capacity to move forward in ways that will move the needle on these issues.”
The mayor works closest with the city manager to set agendas and progress on city issues, and in essence speaks for the city as a whole, she said.
“City government in Ashland is in crisis due to the behavior of our mayor and two councilors, who have together created a toxic working environment for our staff,” Graham said. “While Ashland’s mayor no longer hires and fires department heads, they do play an essential role in establishing healthy relationships between council and staff.”
Graham said council meeting discussions frequently disrespect staff members. She called on Akins to present herself as a positive role model for all meeting participants, correct the record when inaccurate statements are made, intercede if councilors campaign during meetings, and “stop editorializing” council issues.
Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at email@example.com or 541-776-4497.