By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

Sheridan Councilor pushes to fire manager

Sheridan City Councilor Dennis McElroy, who was critical of City Manager Frank Sheridan’s job performance immediately after being appointed to his position two months ago, made a motion at the Monday, July 19, regular meeting to terminate the manager’s contract, which expires Jan. 14.

Sheridan has previously made it known he plans to retire at that time.

Jim Buckles, who accused Sheridan of treating him poorly as a councilor and as a citizen attending meetings before he was elected last November, provided a second to the motion.

It was never voted on, however, as the council took the advice of City Attorney Walt Gowell and tabled that action. Sheridan’s employment status is expected to be discussed at the next regular meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16.

Gowell is currently negotiating with Donald City Manager Heidi Bell to become the next city manager. She was chosen from a group of four finalists.

Sheridan said business of this nature, when the city manager is coming under fire, is usually handled in an executive session.

“I was surprised they brought it up in open session,” he told the News-Register. “If you’re disappointed, you meet in executive session. This seemed to be planned. It was not a spur of the moment thing. It was planned.”

Like Buckles, McElroy was a regular attendee at council meetings prior to being appointed. One of his biggest criticisms of Sheridan has been a lack of response to the condition of multiple structures in the downtown core, including the old Masonic Lodge Building at 106 South Bridge Street.

The roof caved in, destroying the building, the weekend of Jan. 30-31 of this year.

“I’m totally disappointed,” McElroy said, regarding what occurred at the site. “I fought hard to keep that building from collapsing. Something could have been done. We just let it wash down the river (South Yamhill). Before the collapse, a bunch of posts and beams fell and washed down. I don’t like the way things are going there, or the way they went.”

McElroy said he is concerned about “what kind of shape our books are in” and he does not feel he understands what Sheridan is doing in his position as the city manager.

“Other things are going to happen before he’s out the door,” McElroy said.

Buckles said the city council’s responsibility is to hold people responsible, and he does not think Sheridan is doing his job.

“We have asked him to do certain things, and they have come back null and void, multiple times. Your unwillingness to talk to us is what brings all of this up. I believe in respect for everyone, including yourself, but you don’t seem to return the favor. You seem like it’s OK to ignore people.”

Buckles said he resents coming to meetings, asking questions, doing research on an issue, bringing a discussion to the council and having it “fall on deaf ears” where Sheridan is concerned. He called that a form of disrespect.

Councilor Rich Cox Sr. said Sheridan has been asked to perform tasks that have not been completed. He said he did not have notes in front of him to point out specifics.

Cox asked if more harm is being done to the city by letting Sheridan work through the end of his contract as opposed to firing him at this time, knowing such action could cost the city a significant amount of money and risk a law suit being filed by Sheridan, all of which Gowell addressed during the meeting.

“I see Sandy (Councilor Sandy Walker) shaking her head no,” Cox said. “I think there is enough to terminate him.”

Councilor Lucy Hebert said she has heard Sheridan make statements that are “absolute untruths.”

Walker said the discussion regarding Sheridan’s employment sounded like “lynch mob” mentality to her. Cox denied that was the case.

Councilor Roxie Acuff made a motion to table further discussion of Sheridan’s contract until the August regular meeting.

“I’m not prepared to act on this,” she said. “I want some time. Walt does have the city and the council’s best interest in mind.”

Prior to the Monday, Aug. 16 meeting, Gowell said his plan is to “finalize one relationship (with Sheridan) and start another (with Bell)” and do it in a businesslike manner.

He said all of that would not be possible for him if the council were to vote on terminating Sheridan’s contract at this meeting.

Mayor Aaron Baer agreed with Gowell’s suggested plan and said by not following it the council is “opening unnecessary financial liability.”

All the talk about terminating Shewridan’s contract, on such short notice, greatly concerned him.

“Frank has had challenges when it’s come to requests (made by councilors), but this is disrespectful to the service he has provided to the city. It’s not worth the liability.”

Gowell made it clear to the council that if it were to take action before the night was over, and terminate Sheridan’s contract, it should be ready to possibly write him a check for about $50,000 (six months salary) and risk the possibility of a wrongful default claim, or worse.

“But that is uncertain,” Gowell said of a potential lawsuit that Sheridan might file against the city.

Buckles seconded Acuff’s motion.

“I’m torn on this,” he said. “I don’t want to get the city in the middle of a liability issue. I don’t want to see a fiasco on our hands. This is not fun. But a decision does need to be made. We might have an issue with our new city manager. She might be thinking, ‘I don’t want to come here.’”

The motion to table further discussion passed, 5-1, with McElroy voting no. He wants Sheridan removed immediately.

None of the councilors discussed Sheridan’s contract in detail and the ramifications of any decision they might make.

Section 3 of the document is titled “Termination and Severance Pay,” and reads in part:

n If the manager’s employment is terminated by the city during the term of this agreement, the city agrees to compensate the manager six months salary, including all benefits covered by this agreement.

n The city is not bound to make a termination payout in the event the manager is released from the contract for cause, examples being committing a felony, act of dishonesty, theft, willful misappropriation of city funds or other acts of willful misconduct.

Sheridan told the News-Register he has previously offered to open negotiations related to ending his contract when the new city manager’s contract is finalized and that individual is ready to begin working.

“I offered to do what is best for the city when we were discussing this with Jensen Strategies.”

The Portland firm was hired by the city to oversee the city manager recruitment process.

“I said I would curtail my activities based on who they chose,” Sheridan said. “I’m still open to negotiating my way out of here.”

He said he finds the recent dialogue regarding his employment status disappointing.

“We’ve had good councils here. The quality of this one, as a team, is evident. A lot of partisan arguments going on with little basis in fact.”

Sheridan said he has not made a decision whether he will retain a lawyer to help him negotiate what Gowell characterized as a termination agreement of his contract.


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