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E-mail issue spurs debate on policy.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

To speak or not to speak Eugene City Charter describes what the mayor and city councilors can say about city employees Section 16, 1(e) : No councilor nor the mayor may in any manner, directly or indirectly by suggestion or otherwise, attempt to influence the manager in the making of any appointment, or any removal of city personnel or in the purchase of supplies ... Violation of this section forfeits the office of the violating officer, who may be removed by the council or any court of competent jurisdiction. The mayor and council may, however, in open council session, discuss with or suggest to the manager anything pertaining to city affairs and in executive session discuss matters pertaining to collective bargaining."

Thought the dust over Eugene's errant e-mail had settled? Think again.

The fallout from the derisive "She's Baaack" e-mail from Assistant City Manager Jim Carlson to City Councilor Bonny Bettman has led to a new debate. Now City Hall chatter is focused on what city councilors can say about the disciplining of city employees and where they can say it.

Bettman, the subject of the e-mail, has asked the city's legal counsel whether fellow City Councilor Chris Pryor violated the city charter by commenting to The Register-Guard about the discipline meted out to Carlson.

Pryor says he did nothing wrong. But Bettman says City Attorney Glenn Klein last week ducked her questions, and that she's still waiting for answers.

The charter says councilors and the mayor cannot attempt to influence the city manager over the hiring and firing of employees. Violating that rule could force an officeholder to forfeit his or her job.

The hubbub began in March when Carlson accidentally sent Bettman an e-mail in which he referenced Bettman's return to Eugene from a trip on city business with the phrase "She's Baaack." (The phrase is a play on the reference to returning ghosts in the horror movie `Poltergeist II.')

Bettman, some other councilors and Mayor Kitty Piercy said the e-mail - which Carlson had intended to send to his wife - was inappropriate and called on City Manager Dennis Taylor to take action.

On May 4, it was disclosed that Taylor had issued a written reprimand to Carlson over the e-mail. In the reprimand, Taylor ordered Carlson to write a training policy on the correct use of e-mail by city employees.

Carlson apologized in a letter to the mayor and councilors, following an earlier public apology that he read aloud at a council meeting.

At the time of Carlson's first mea culpa, Bettman said she wasn't interested in apologies. She said she wanted to see what steps Taylor would take to reduce disrespect by staff members toward councilors. "I want to see genuine reform," she said.

In a May 4 article in The Register-Guard, Bettman declined to say whether she was satisfied with Taylor's response.

Her reason for not speaking? "According to the city legal counsel's interpretation of the Eugene City Charter, councilors are prohibited from discussing or commenting on personnel issues or they risk forfeiting their seat on the city council," Bettman explained in an e-mail.

But other councilors didn't feel constrained from commenting.

Councilor David Kelly, a frequent Bettman ally, said Carlson's letter and public release of the reprimand was "very important." But Kelly said time will tell if "some of the attitudes in the city organization" improve.

Councilors Pryor, Jennifer Solomon and George Poling said they were satisfied with the responses by Taylor and Carlson.

Pryor, who represents southwest Eugene, told a reporter he believed that Carlson was "absolutely sincere" in his regret and apology.

Pryor also said he had known Carlson for 20 years, and that he believed Carlson `would work hard to make sure something like this would not happen again within the (city) organization.'

Bettman responded to Pryor's published comments by asking Klein, the city attorney, if Pryor had violated the charter, which outlines the powers of the city manager, mayor and council.

Bettman, in her query to Klein, said she understood that councilors are prohibited from discussing personnel issues except when the council is meeting as a group.

Pryor is "quoted speaking specifically about a city employee who is not an employee of council," she added. "He comments on the employee's work performance and character. Is discussing employees permitted as long as it is praise, but prohibited if it is criticism, or has Councilor Pryor violated the charter?"

Pryor said he doesn't believe he violated the charter because he wasn't trying to influence the city manager on a personnel issue.

"This was simply a comment to the newspaper" about the city manager's discipline of Carlson, Pryor said. "I consider the issue closed."

Klein, in a Friday response to Bettman and the rest of the council, declined to say if Pryor violated the charter.

`Since I do not know what Councilor Pryor actually said or the circumstances under which the discussion occurred, I am not in a position to give an opinion as to whether he (Pryor) violated the charter,' he wrote.

Klein added: "The question that a court would examine with respect to any particular comment is whether the comment attempted to influence the manager in the appointment or removal of an employee."

After getting Klein's memo, Bettman said the "city manager's legal counsel sidestepped the issue."

Bettman also said she's seeking a "clarification of legal counsel's long-standing charter interpretation that councilors are prohibited from addressing personnel matters at any time except in an open council meeting."

Pryor said Bettman "is entitled to ask any question she wants. My reaction to her question is that I don't think there is a cause for concern here."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Government; Eugene City Councilor Bonny Bettman questions whether rules were violated
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 15, 2006
Words:947
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