Clatsop County Manager Cameron Moore told county commissioners in a September email that he would resign in March to ensure that county staff could come forward with concerns about management without fear of retaliation.
Moore, an experienced administrator who was hired last year to bring more stability to a county that had seen nine managers in 16 years, made the offer after Commissioner Lianne Thompson claimed county staff were unwilling to share their concerns due to fear of retaliation.
“To ensure that there are no fears of retaliation from the county manager among any staff that come forward with concerns, I am resigning as Clatsop County manager effective March 31, 2018 or at another date mutually agreeable to the Clatsop County Board of County Commissioners,” Moore wrote in the Sept. 15 email.
But with direct support from Board Chairman Scott Lee as well as commissioners Sarah Nebeker and Lisa Clement, Moore decided against resigning. Weeks after the email, Lee asked Moore to stay longer.
“It think he’s a capable manager,” Lee said. “I would like him to stay on through the budget process.”
Moore said he does not plan to resign and that he simply wanted to give commissioners enough time to potentially search for a new county manager, which is why he listed the specific date.
“Sometimes when you’re in leadership roles you have to say, ‘Hey, I’m willing to step aside for the betterment of the county,’” Moore said.
One day before the email was sent, The Daily Astorian published a story that included comments from Thompson.
“Several staff have raised issues about county government with me,” Thompson wrote in a July email to the newspaper. “They said they feared retaliation if they went public. I now understand their fears of retaliation.”
Thompson’s email referred to an internal investigation regarding her behavior toward a county employee at a public meeting in June. The incident centered on a discussion about Moore. Despite the report’s finding that Thompson had “crossed the boundary of decorum” by placing her hands on and speaking loudly to the employee, the county does not intend to take disciplinary measures.
At a Sept. 27 Board of Commissioners meeting, nearly two weeks after his email to commissioners, Moore publicly called for an investigation into Thompson’s claims. He had notified commissioners in the Sept. 15 email of his intention to make the public request.
“We follow up on all employee concerns. This one sort of came to us in a little bit different way than we might typically hear about it,” Moore said. “It’s a little bit vague to me about what the concerns are, and I was particularly concerned about anybody having any fear of retaliation. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing we can afford not to follow up on.”
He also said, without specifying his personal intentions, that the investigation should be conducted by an outside party, presuming that the retaliation fears stemmed from county management.
“If you feel it’s appropriate for me as county manager to step aside temporarily or — frankly — permanently, I think you need to know I’m willing to do that,” Moore said. “Obviously, that’s your decision ultimately.”
Since the September meeting, County Counsel Heather Reynolds reached out to Thompson’s lawyer to ask about specific instances of county employees’ fears of retaliation. No specifics were given, Reynolds said.
“As far as I know, that was just a ridiculous statement,” Lee said.
The county has retained Jill Goldsmith of Workplace Solutions Northwest, a Portland mediation service, to investigate Thompson’s claims and interview county employees. She also conducted the investigation into Thompson’s behavior in June.
Lee has called on Thompson to resign over her conduct and expenses. Thompson has said she plans to remain and run for re-election next year.
Thompson declined to say whether or not she would prefer that Moore resign. Both Thompson and Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan have questioned in the past whether Moore and county staff hold too much power in county decision-making relative to the board.
Sullivan said she wished to remain neutral about Moore’s future.
“When I got the email, I was confused and dismayed,” Sullivan said. “I would like us all to be working well together.”