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Ashland finance director resigns

Ashland's historic City Hall. file photo
Councilor says third resignation of a city official spells catastrophe for city

Ashland Finance Director Melanie Purcell announced Wednesday she will resign from the city effective Aug. 6.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve with the staff at the city of Ashland, and I treasure the opportunity to have worked as a member of this amazing team,” Purcell said in a resignation letter dated June 21 addressed to City Manager pro tem Adam Hanks, who is set to resign effective the same date.

Purcell said she considers the 2021-23 biennial budget a “solid example of strategic budgeting,” with the structure to incorporate community values.

“While there are challenging times ahead that require thoughtful decisions, the staff work to build the budget provides a strong foundation for careful policy choices,” Purcell said in the letter.

Hanks suggested to the council that a second agenda item be added to a June 29 special session to discuss appointing an interim finance director.

Mayor Julie Akins called the special session to address interim hiring for the city manager position, after Hanks announced his resignation June 16.

Purcell worked in municipal government for nearly 30 years, specializing in finance, human resources and organizational design, according to her profile on the Government Finance Officers Association website. She holds a master’s degree in public policy, bachelor’s degree in economics and is a certified public finance officer.

Akins said she appreciated Purcell’s contributions during the budget development process and found her “professional, pleasant and competent,” in their few interactions.

“I had hoped she would stay longer, just as I had hoped City Manager pro tem Adam Hanks would,” Akins said. “These top spots are hard to fill. But we will fill them, and Ashland will continue as a vibrant community.”

Councilors Stephen Jensen and Tonya Graham have alleged that the recent rash of resignations are the consequence of poor staff treatment and a “toxic” work environment created by Akins and councilors Shaun Moran and Gina DuQuenne.

Jensen’s previous statements were criticized as alleged violations of the council’s code of conduct. The code requires councilors to refrain from negative personal comments, derogatory or misleading statements about staff and others, and “casting aspersion either directly or indirectly.”

“One may speak in opposition, but do so without personal rancor,” under the risk of legal and financial jeopardy, the code says.

“The pattern of municipal destruction is now obvious,” Jensen said Wednesday. “I did not become a city councilor to preside over the systematic dismantling of our town, and that’s what we’re seeing.”

The pattern can be traced back to failed fire chief recruitment in December 2020, followed by the retirement of City Attorney David Lohman and resignation of Hanks, who carried “a ton of experience, institutional knowledge and respect” in Ashland, Jensen said.

In her role as finance director, Purcell was a vital component of righting the city’s wayward financial ship, he said.

“It is more than tragic. It is catastrophic for this town,” Jensen said. “The mayor and councilors who are responsible for the resignations of key municipal staff need to be held accountable immediately.”

Jensen said the code of conduct applies to “normal times and normal interactions” — not applicable to the city’s current “dire” situation, he said.

“The lifeboats are out, the code of conduct just went overboard,” Jensen said.

Akins said Ashland is experiencing retention and hiring challenges like many employers in current economic conditions.

“It’s reflective of a ‘post-COVID’ economy where employees are calling the shots,” Akins said. “That’s not a bad thing, but it is a thing that affects the city of Ashland.”

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.