Struggle under way over Lane economic agency

EUGENE — A power struggle is under way in Lane County over business recruiting, and at the center is Jack Roberts, widely known for two terms as state labor commissioner, his newspaper columns and an unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination for governor.

Roberts heads a three-person economic development agency named Lane Metro Partnership, financed mainly by city and county governments.

County officials have tried quietly to oust him, the Eugene Register-Guard reported Wednesday. It said records and messages show the plan calls for temporarily replacing him with the county government's economic development manager, Glenda Poling.

Roberts told the Lane Metro board in a memo that the county administrator, Liane Richardson, threatened to withhold $100,000 in contributions unless there's a change in leadership at his agency.

Richardson said she hasn't made the county's contribution contingent on Roberts leaving, but she wants better communication with other local economic development officials. She said it's not always clear who should take the lead on projects.

Lane Metro bills itself as the lead agency for recruiting outside companies to the county. It typically gets $100,000 a year from the county, $50,000 from Eugene and up to $50,000 from Springfield. Some local governments have their own economic development staffs.

In an email to the head of Roberts’ board of directors, Poling said Roberts and another staff member, Phillip Hudspeth, could get severance packages, and she was ready to take over the job “at a moment's notice.”

“I would want to condition any severance package on both Jack and Phillip's agreement not to engage in ANY response to stakeholders — particularly in the press and among our industry peers in the state. We would be happy to draft messaging that could be approved and used by all to describe this transition in a positive light,” Poling wrote.

Roberts was once a county commissioner and lost to conservative Kevin Mannix in the 2002 Republican primary for the nomination to run for governor. He told his board he'd been willing to step down until he learned that Hudspeth was also to be ousted.

“No one told me why they wanted me gone or why they were unhappy with my performance,” Roberts's memo read. “Nonetheless, I've spent enough time in politics and in government to know that these things are often as much about personality and other people's ambitions as about merit.”

Like other Oregon governments affected by the end of federal timber subsidies, Lane County governments are pinched.

Springfield City Manager Gino Grimaldi said he's budgeting only $25,000 for Lane Metro next year, mainly out of budget concerns, but thinks there should be more emphasis on helping local business. Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz said he proposes to continue the city's $50,000 allocation.


Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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