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Bernard Seeger to leave CL City Administrator job

Jan. 1, 2011

Mayor-elect George Fischer's inbox just got full.

City Administrator Bernard Seeger will step down Jan. 31, after four years on the job.

In a move whose timing came as a surprise to Fischer, Seeger and the city council agreed Monday night to an employment separation agreement.

"I didn't feel I had the trust of the incoming council, and it is best that I pursue a new path," Seeger said Tuesday.

"I am surprised," Fischer said when informed Wednesday of the action. "We (the new council) didn't even get the chance." He declined further comment, saying, "I was not there and I was not involved."

Councilor Tiffany Pruitt, who voted against the agreement, called it "a last-ditch to give Bernard something I don't feel he was entitled to; he was basically asking for termination of his opposition and he wants to be paid for it."

"It's a good deal, and it allows the city council to hire a new city administrator, said Councilor Randy Holmstrom said.

Councilor-elect Don Haight also said he was unhappy with the timing of the move.

"It was kind of a last-ditch thing by the council in their last meeting," Haight said.

"I think the incoming council would have liked to have had time to get together and meet and discuss it," he said.

"This was not an action that couldn't have been done with the new council," Pruitt said.

"He knew he had the four votes," with Randy Holmstrom, Kerry Jo Osbourn and Lance Masters voting in favor, along with Mayor Brad Lorang, and Kevin Benson, Tom Cramblett and Pruitt opposing.

Pruitt said "This is them telling the voters they didn't have confidence in their vote of the recent election."

"I think that since Bernard submitted (the agreement) it's the seated council that needs to deal with it, and not put it off on the new council," Holmstrom said.

"I think we did our job and instead of paying 21 weeks, and vacation, we settled for about 13 weeks.

"I believe we had a liability to pay out severance and he was proposing severance plus vacation and we settled for quite a bit less than what his contract required," Holmstrom said.

Seeger had asked for four months' pay plus accrued vacation pay, but in executive session the council agreed to three months' pay with no accrued vacation.

"It became clear to me I didn't think I'd get approval if I was to push back, so I agreed," Seeger said.

Fischer, who takes office Jan. 3, said, "We'll try to go through the process and keep the public's best interest in mind in trying to hire the next city administrator.

"When I take oath of office I will evaluate every situation from when I take office and into future and look at everything honestly and fairly and evaluate in the best way I can."

Seeger requested a separation agreement rather than a voluntary resignation, which he said does not qualify for severance.

Seeger said he had requested a Jan. 7 departure date but that Mayor Brad Lorang told him he wanted more time for the transition. The new council takes office Jan. 3.

(Lorang was unavailable for comment.)

"The driving force behind the decision is the new council and my conclusion that I don't have their trust," Seeger said. "I just don't feel I have their trust, based on my communication with them since I was elected.

"I don't want to get into too much detail, but basically they (council) were very limited in their communication, which was a red flag," he said. "I bear them no ill will. It's their choice not to communicate with me."

He said he detected "a shift in the leadership for the council" in the Nov. 2 election. "I know which members I have trust with, and it's fair to say I only have the trust of one staying on, and two more I don't believe I have their trust."

Seeger said Haight declined to meet with him when contacted by Seeger to discuss expectations.

"That was a red flag," he said. "It's their option, but in my analysis, and based on what other people I trust in the industry tell me, this person doesn't trust me."

Haight acknowledged that he does not trust Seeger's abilities.

"He lacks, I felt, management tools," Haight said. "He was not a good person manager, in my opinion. It was hard for him to reprimand or correct things that have gone bad. That was my biggest complaint."

Of the distrust, Holmstrom said, "I don't know what it's based on, if anything."

Seeger has seen some controversy in his tenure with Cascade Locks. He pushed for a bond measure to build a new fire hall, which had its detractors because of the amount of the levy, the size of the facility and the way the sale of the old fire hall was handled.

Pruitt also cited an attempt last year, supported by Lorang and Seeger, to amend the city's charter, a change opponents said would dilute elected officials' power and gave more authority to the city's chief appointed officer, effectively turning the administrator job into that of city manager.

In November, the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division found Seeger in violation of state Revised Statutes when citizens complained that he advocated, in the city's Locks Tender newsletter in 2008, against two city ballot initiatives relating to council approval of new fees and condemnation of property.

There is no legal penalty and the state waived any fine, as Seeger had cleared the Locks Tender information with the city's attorney in advance.

Under the separation agreement, the city will terminate Seeger without cause and give him severance. It also holds him harmless in the event of future lawsuits against the city.

Holmstrom said Seeger's departure "will be a great loss.

"He did a great job. He was a real cheerleader for Cascade Locks," said Holmstrom, who is leaving council.

"I don't have a job waiting for me," Seeger said. "If I had a job waiting I'd have done a voluntary resignation. But my financial future is uncertain."

Seeger had applied for the city manager job in nearby Wood Village, but was not hired. He is currently looking into other openings.

"I'm going to continue working for cities," he said. "I love this profession, and I hope to find another city. I would love to be in the Northwest. I'd love to stay in Oregon.

"In return they will have my willing cooperation on transition issues in addressing business of the city in addressing the business of the city," he said.

Seeger will leave his job with the city, but not Cascade Locks. He owns a home in the city and intends to return to Cascade Locks to retire.

"It's a great town, with a great future," he said. "I am so happy I bought a house there, and I will come back. I've traveled all over the world and the Gorge is one of the top five places on the planet."

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