By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Repair of private vehicle triggered county probe

Yamhill County Public Works Director John Phelan told the News-Register that he had been placed on administrative leave July 19 over an allegation that he used the county shop to perform a repair on his personal vehicle. He acknowledged it was true.

“I did something wrong, Phelan said. “I fully admit that.”

On the other hand, he said, the July 2015 repair, which involved replacement of a sensor on an air conditioning unit, took place after hours. And it was conducted by two employees he considered friends, working, he thought, on their own time to install a replacement part he purchased himself.

“It took an hour, and frankly, we bullsh--ted for half an hour (of that),” he said.

He said that he later thanked one of the employees by bringing some fish he had caught.

Phelan said the allegation about the year-old incident were recently brought by the Yamhill County Employee Association, an arm of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75. He said they were spread via fliers placed around the county public works shop complex.

The colorful fliers, which feature a photo of Phelan’s truck undergoing repair in early July of 2015, allege Phelan “picks and chooses what ethics laws to follow.” The fliers contrast that with word he relayed to the union on a public records request filed in June, indicating the fee would run about $950.

Phelan doesn’t deny that, either.

He said the union requested 1,500 to 2,000 pages of documents. He said the county’s legal department indicated an electronic copy would be provided free of charge, on a thumb drive, but  a paper copy would require a substantial fee to cover labor and material costs associated with the copying.

Phelan said he wasn’t angry with either the county commissioners or County Administrator Laura Tschabold for placing him on administrative leave while the allegations are investigated. “That’s standard procedure,” he said.

He said he was, however, upset with the union. He wondered why it took union officials over a year to bring the allegation forward about his truck, and why it was then tied to an unrelated issue that had angered them.

“If this isn’t the definition of retaliation, I don’t know what is,” he said.

AFSCME Council rep Bao Nguyen denied there was any retaliation involved. He said it was reasonable for the union to question whether Phelan is as good about following ethics laws himself as he is at applying them to the union.

Nguyen said the county offered the union some of the documents it requested, but not all of them. And he said the union considers the fee the county cited unreasonable and thus illegal.

He said the union has not yet received any of the requested documents, and is still working on its official response to the county.

County Administrator Laura Tschabold declined comment on the allegations against Phelan, citing the ongoing investigation. However, she did address the records issue, indicating a county public works employee had requested:

“1. All records of work performed on Saturdays by public works road crews for two years — who worked, tasks performed, hours recorded for each task/location.

“2. All accidents for the last three years — who had the accident, who witnessed the accident, cost of damages incurred and any resulting discipline.

“3. Information on building permits and architectural plans for ... the new Public Works building.”

Tschabold termed the request “quite extensive.” She said the materials were not located in a single file, so involved gathering effort as well as copying effort.

She said the initial estimate was $945.15 and explained, “This number was derived how we always calculate public records costs, by estimating staff time for compiling such requests.”

She went on to say, “However, a second, less-expensive alternative was offered by Mr. Phelan and the county for the request for the records regarding the Saturday work, which would be approximately 1,465 pages. That was to give the association electronic access to the IRIS reporting system used by Public Works for the two-year period of time so that it would not have to incur all quoted charges for the staff time to compile those records for the association.”

Phelan said he often uses the truck that underwent repair at the shop, a 2001 Chevy Tahoe, for work purposes. He said, for example, that he often conveys county commissioners and employees, without charging the county.

Last summer, he said, he and his wife were planning a trip to Montana for a family reunion over the Fourth of July weekend, but she had to bow out at the last minute. The weather was scorching, the air conditioner wasn’t working on his truck and he was unable to find a local shop that could get it fixed in time to make the trip, he said.

“I went to every shop in this town,” he said.

In desperation, he said, he turned to a good friend at the county shop, assisted by a second employee he also considered a friend.

Phelan said he offered that information just to provide context, not to serve as a justification.

“The bottom line is, I did something I wasn’t supposed to,” he said. “If they want compensation for time and use, I have no problem with that.”



What exactly is the relevance of accident reports and building plans when investigating this issue? Phelan admits that it happened! Sounds like Mr. Nguyen & the union have a personal issue and are going on a fishing trip.....speaking of ethics, is spreading fliers around the shop area an appropriate way to initiate an investigation?. Sounds more like a reputation smear to me....

Reimburse the county for the employee time (if necessary) and move on....


I don't know the whole story here but I would be questioning why the union would choose $900 plus fee over electronic information. Sounds like a bad choice with funds and the union choosing the worst choice to make Phelan look bad. Kudos to Phelan and Tschabold for having the presence of mind to offer a better solution even if the union is ignoring it.


I imagine that Phelan has learned that it is always best to do the work yourself at home or take the vehicle to a dealer or mechanic. Failing to draw a distinct line between work and personal affairs invites trouble and creates doubt even with a relatively minor infraction such as this. Mr. Phelan you have given the county and the union a very good reason to investigate you and the incident. You opened the door by not staying true to the ethics required of your position.


A tempest in a teapot.


It sounds to me like the union worker or workers who took the picture should go find another job (although I doubt you'd make it in the private sector). Your attempt to paint Mr. Phelan in a bad light, has only made you and your union look ridiculous. You might want to ask for your union dues back.


If the union body actually thought this was a big deal, they would've brought it up a year ago when it happened and the picture was taken. This is just a tantrum for not getting their way on the documents they wanted Public Works employees to spend their time (aka taxpayer money) compiling. I sure hope they're responsible for covering the cost of time, resources and taxpayer money (again!) wasted on this pointless investigation.

Side note - let's hope none of the union employees ever uses a Public Works vehicle to grab lunch on their break, or answers a personal phone call or text message while on the clock. That would be using county resources for personal benefit, right??


So let me see if I understand this correctly.

This whole flap is over a private auto repair, using private funds and private parts with private "friends" (supposed buddies not on the clock and compensated with private barter), not conducted on the tax payers dime and the only problem is that they were parked in the County garage and not his own personal garage?

And so the question I'm interested in is just exactly who is wasting or stealing tax payer money?


So you're telling me, if I buy a part for my car, and gain some friends down at public works, we could use the county (taxpayers) public facility to have it replaced. I wonder what the going rate in fish currency is to have my car repaired? Sounds fishy to me, wonder how many other crooked things happen, when they aren't being captured by his employees.

Mr Phelan should be held to the same standard as he would expect out of his employees, as a manager I'm sure (I would hope) he wouldn't tolerate his employees using the facility and employees for personal gain.


I believe that the real issues exist above Phelan. County admin and commissioners have created strong management/union tension. AFSCME didn't exist until recently when the tension was created from on high. Further there are way bigger ethics fish upstream. Phelan's deal is peanuts compared to what's been happening higher up. With all the county issues of late when will the light go on that the real issues are at the top?


This is what unions do. The will whine to develop any leverage that is available. That is why union membership as a percentage of the work force is at historic lows. They add very little to productivity.


So who is this person that took the picture,then held on to it for a year and then brought it out clearly in a dishonest way,for a dishonest reason,I would be more worried about this vindictive person and what else is he or she snapping pictures of and holding on to and why?


brloo286 I would say "yes"to your question. Was there harm done? This is/was a union stab at trying to cause problems between employees and nothing more.