Prineville city official steps down

Assistant City Manager Jerry Gillham quits amid flap over public works director’s job

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: February 14. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The Prineville City Council decided Tuesday night to accept the resignation of Assistant City Manager Jerry Gillham, effective Feb. 15.

Residents and councilors were critical of Gillham after his role in the elimination of Public Works Director Jim Mole’s position. During what officials have termed an overall restructuring of city government last month, Gillham suggested removing Mole’s job.

The city plans to offer Gillham, who is currently in South Carolina for Oregon National Guard training, a severance package of 90 days pay and 15 days military pay. He makes about $87,000 a year and has worked for the city for about five months.

The City Council saw a packed audience for the second meeting in a row Tuesday night as residents continued to raise questions about last month’s decision to restructure the public works department.

Don Porfily, the manager of Ochoco Feed Co., presented Mayor Mike Wendel with a petition asking the mayor to resign. Several local businesses have featured similar petitions that have garnered hundreds of signatures.

Wendel said he believes he has “done a lot of good for the community” as mayor.

“I spend a lot of time doing this job; I spend a lot of time away from my family doing this job,” Wendel said. “The reason I stepped up to do this job is because I love Prineville and I’m willing to do everything I can to make it the great city it is and to make it better. That said, I will not resign at this time.”

Councilor Tim Harris said he hopes Tuesday night’s decision to accept Gillham’s resignation will raise support for the mayor. The vote on Gillham’s employment occurred after an executive session, so no members of the public were present.

“Hopefully with the decisions that were made tonight, (the public) will realize that he does have the city’s best interest at heart,” Harris said.

Several speakers at the meeting reiterated their criticism – first expressed at the council’s Jan. 23 meeting – of City Manager Robb Corbett and Gillham for their role in restructuring the city government and eliminating Public Works Director Jim Mole’s job. They also restated support for Mole and his performance with the public works department.

Gillham informed Mole on Jan. 18 that he no longer had a job with the city after nearly four years of work. Officials later said that the decision stemmed from a reorganization of city government that was meant to streamline operations as the city continues to grow.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Corbett said the reorganization will allow the city to coordinate planning and public works, and he distributed copies of a document showing a new city structure. Previously, Mole reported directly to Corbett. Now, a position described as a “lead supervisor” for public works will report to the assistant city manager.

Scott Smith, an employee in public works, said at Tuesday’s meeting that he feels he can no longer work with Corbett because the city manager has lost his “trust and respect.” He added that he worried that speaking at the council meeting would be “jeopardizing my 19-year, seven-month employment with the city of Prineville.”

“I feel I need to voice my opinion when I question the direction my community is going,” Smith said. “We’re all confused (in the public works department); we’re all here to do the best job we can, but we have no leadership, and Robb, you can question my attitude, but attitude is a question of leadership.”

Smith said that Gillham had subjected public works employees to “intimidation, harassment (and) a hostile work environment,” citing examples such as accessing individuals’ personnel files.

“The people of this town don’t know half the stuff that’s happened – when they do find out, things are going to get really bad,” he said. “I hope you guys won’t allow Mr. Corbett to fire me – he’s been known to do that – but as a citizen I can voice my opinion.”

Council members agreed that they would like a policy to include the City Council in discussions of future plans to restructure city positions, which they will vote on at a later meeting.

“I believe the council would like to have more input whenever we do major structural changes inside the city,” Wendel said.

While some speakers referred to a possible attempt to recall Wendel – who was the only City Council member to know beforehand about the decision to eliminate Mole’s job – others said they think that step would further divide the community.

“I don’t want to see the turmoil in Prineville,” said Larry Smith. “You (councilors) need to work together as a group; you need to consider the history of some of the people involved.”

In other business at the meeting, Deborah McMahon, a planning consultant for the city, asked the council to defer discussion on the city’s first comprehensive plan until the first meeting in March. Wendel expressed frustration with the delay – the City Council had hoped to pass its comprehensive plan by the end of 2006 – but McMahon said the process has been relatively quick and a plan should be ready for the council’s consideration by early March.

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