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Ashland human resource department vacant

ASHLAND — After more than 25 years in the position, Human Resource Director Tina Gray resigned March 2, according to City Manager Joe Lessard.

With the city’s second HR staff position vacant as of the new year, Gray’s departure empties a two-person department covering nearly 250 employees as labor negotiations approach and key positions remain unfilled.

Four of the six separate contracts that cover city of Ashland employees expire in June.

“Because of the change in staffing and the pending leaving of our HR director, we’re going to be doing a couple things to fill the gap while we look to get into our labor negotiations and to make sure that we don’t lose any ground on our recruiting efforts,” Lessard said during the March 1 City Council meeting.

“We’ll be looking for the Rogue Valley (Council of Governments) to help us with human resource processing and the Lane County COG to help us with the labor negotiations,” Lessard said.

According to its website, RVCOG’s services include human resources and labor standards compliance.

The Lane County Council of Governments provides local government personnel services including “human resources and labor relations assistance to cities, counties and special districts throughout Oregon,” according to its website.

Ashland City Council voted Dec. 21, 2021, to keep the city’s human resources department and functions in-house at least until the next biennium.

Then-interim city manager Gary Milliman said the “bandied about” possibility of eliminating the HR department and contracting out human resource services had been “a source of anxiety in the city staff.”

The city’s current HR functions cover recruitment, labor relations, management of employee benefit and workers compensation programs, assistance to department heads regarding discipline issues, onboarding, training, confidential records maintenance and payroll interfacing, Milliman said at the Dec. 21 City Council meeting. Between August and the end of December, 23 employees had left the city, ramping up recruitment responsibilities.

Milliman said the HR department is “actually underfunded,” and “staff rarely receives training or professional development.”

“For the past 22 months, HR has played a key role in managing the city’s internal response to COVID-19, dealing with actual and potential exposures and labor relations issues relating to vaccine and testing mandates,” Milliman wrote in council documents. “HR will be playing an expanded role as the city gives increased attention to developing/administering internal policies and practices relating to social equity and racial justice.”

Milliman advised the City Council that with the new year slated to bring negotiations for new labor agreements, a “knowledgeable and skilled” HR staff was needed.

Gray was hired as human resource director in August 1996, according to her LinkedIn profile. Following some speculation about her resignation in December, Gray said in an email Dec. 6 that she decided to stay because “the city of Ashland has been so good to me for over 24 years; it felt wrong to leave no staff in administration with a new city manager coming on board.”

Gray said the HR department had been “underwater” during the pandemic “with additional and ever-changing mask mandates, employee COVID absence management, high turnover” and “questions surrounding vaccine mandates and the implications on our workforce.”

Lessard said Tuesday that responsibilities were temporarily reallocated among existing staff, as RVCOG undertakes the search for the next HR director.

The city manager can authorize contracts with RVCOG for recruiting services on an interim basis and LCCOG to handle labor contracts without City Council approval, he said, and requests to enter labor negotiations have yet to be received.