JOSEPH — Citing “constant harassment from members of the current city council,” Joseph City Administrator/Recorder Larry Braden resigned by letter to council members read publicly Friday evening, April 16, in an emergency city council meeting.
The type of harassment or specifically who it was from was not specified in the letter. Braden was not present at the meeting and was not available for comment.
Mayor Belinda Buswell, who read Braden’s letter aloud, and the council members all said they had no idea from whom the alleged harassment was coming.
The resignation comes just over two weeks after a heated exchange at the April 1 city council meeting, during which Braden cited confusion over the role of the mayor and the city administrator, and his role in the day-to-day function of the city.
“It’s very frustrating for me to do my job,” Braden said in that meeting. “We currently are not compliant with the city charter. We are not compliant with the council rules and almost every single aspect of my employment contract has been violated. Doing my job in a functional, efficient manner is almost impossible right now.”
Braden’s departure leaves a critical hole in the staffing of the city. He served the city of Joseph for just more than two years.
“Now, we are right in the middle of budget season and we need to get something in place to assist you (Administrative Assistant Jamie Collier) at city hall until we can get this job posted and filled,” Buswell said after reading the letter.
But the major issue may be the harassment Braden alleged. Buswell initially suggested she could be of help to Collier, having worked as city recorder until July and being familiar with many of the workings of city hall. However, others were uncomfortable with that.
“I actually feel that given the nature of the letter, it sounds like there’s some harassment from city council members, I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with giving access,” Councilor Lisa Collier said. “I don’t feel like giving anybody that power right now. I feel like the council, we need to sit down with Wyatt Baum (city attorney) and say, ‘OK, what do we do?’ Because we could play a whole bunch of different scenarios. What if we get the harasser actually in there, and then what? What kind of stuff would Larry have in his office?”
The council member emphasized she wasn’t pointing any fingers.
“I’m not blaming anybody,” she said. “I feel that we have to move forward, but there’s somebody or an individual on the city council who is the reason why we don’t have our city administrator. I think we need to look at that. Maybe not tonight, but I feel uncomfortable appointing people when we don’t even know who we’re dealing with obviously.”
The council agreed to have Baum begin an investigation into the alleged harassment. Baum was not available for comment Monday, April 19.
Although she’d initially offered to help at city hall, Buswell withdrew her offer, understanding the discomfort council members expressed.
Councilors suggested reaching out to various community members, including those throughout the county, who might be able to assist both in the day-to-day operations at city hall and in the budgeting process.
“My priority is we get the budget done,” Buswell said. “I don’t care who is doing it, as long as we get somebody in there. I don’t want to leave Jamie out to dry. Those are my two concerns. ... It was brought up to me that I ask to volunteer because I have worked there. I don’t have an interest in doing it. I’d rather not be in there at all.”
The council approved motions to fill the gap left with Braden’s departure.
One such action will be a workshop on council rules scheduled for Monday, April 26, which will instead focus on reviewing the job description for city administrator/recorder.
“That way we can get it posted as soon as possible,” Councilor Kathy Bingham said.
The motions largely involved delegating to various members to reach out for information, such as posting the job vacancy with the League of Oregon Cities, learning if the city can get an extension on submitting its budget and finding someone who could help with the budget process.
Officials with Wallowa County and the city of Enterprise are being asked if they know of someone to help Jamie Collier with day-to-day operations at city hall. The council also agreed — on Baum’s advice — to stay out of city hall.
Public Works Director Levi Tickner reminded the council that city hall once had fewer business hours. The council agreed to ease Collier’s workload and to have city hall open only from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday until sufficient staffing can be found.
The council also is seeking help at city hall from someone who knows the ins and outs of zoning and land-use laws. Collier, by her own admission, is untrained in those areas and had always passed questions on to Braden.
“There’s a lot of traffic right now with zoning, and all I’ve really started tackling is running the water and sewer billing,” the administrative assistant said. “People come in the door with zoning questions. I really haven’t had time to study zoning or to be able to go out and check out their markings to see if they’re in the right place. I don’t know anything about that. It’s a really hot item right now. We have a lot of people building RV pads, rebuilding fences.”
Although councilors recognized they needed to keep their distance from day-to-day operations at city hall, they were highly supportive of the city’s administrative assistant. Several asked if there is anything they can do to help.
“Even if it’s mowing your lawn,” Councilor Stephen Bartlow said, “we’ll help.”