Clatsop County Manager Cameron Moore will not attend Board of Commissioners meetings, citing repeated public criticism from Commissioners Lianne Thompson and Kathleen Sullivan.
The county manager has also threatened legal action, according to sources familiar with the issue.
Moore was not at Wednesday’s meeting. Commissioner Scott Lee, the board’s chairman, read aloud correspondence between Moore and commissioners in which the county manager said he would not attend “for the foreseeable future.”
“As we discussed last Thursday I unfortunately find myself in the position of having to take steps to protect myself from the abusive and hostile work environment being imposed upon me by Commissioners Thompson and Sullivan. One of the primary weapons that they use against me is to make me their verbal punching bag at board of county commissioner meetings,” the email sent Wednesday morning and addressed to Lee and other county officials read. “It is extremely unfortunate that this is the situation that I find myself in but based on our discussion I know that you understand my need to take whatever actions are necessary to protect myself from further damage.”
Moore could not be reached for comment. Other county officials did not publicly confirm if or why the county manager threatened legal action.
Sullivan declined to comment, while Thompson offered a statement via email.
“I’ve seen better setups in a Law & Order rerun than during this week’s board meeting. To hurl a bucket of allegations at me and a fellow commissioner, without any prior notice or opportunity for discussion, was the height of irresponsibility and unprofessionalism,” Thompson wrote. “I welcome finding better ways to work with the county administrators and my fellow commissioners, but turning board meetings into publicity stunts is not the way to do it.”
Earlier this month, a county employee — whom Lee declined to identify — sent an email to Moore regarding a “confusing and also concerning” phone call with Thompson. Moore forwarded the email to Lee, who read it aloud Wednesday. The employee claims Thompson, after asking that her name not be said out loud, warned her to be careful about making certain public comments.
“Nothing was said by either of us that would cause question or concern. When I asked her where this was going she proceeded to say that she received threatening emails from county management and that it will end up in court and doesn’t want me to have to be in court as she is sure this is my livelihood and even if I was not in this position that I would need a good reference from this job,” the email read. “At that point, I was not only completely confused but also a bit upset by what was said.”
Lee said the encounter with Thompson violated a chain of command outlined in the county charter and board policy and that the action could expose the county to legal liability. He threatened to remove Thompson from any liaison assignments that would require her to interact with county staff who are not in management.
“You cannot threaten employees,” Lee said, adding he has not seen any threatening emails from county management to Thompson. “This is unacceptable behavior, and I want it to stop.”
Thompson responded to the allegations in part of her written statement to the newspaper. “The suggestion that I am threatening is laughable — I am 73 years old and 135 pounds soaking wet. It is clear they are threatened because I believe the manager is accountable to the commissioners that were elected to oversee his work.”
Wednesday’s revelations are the latest in a string of private and public clashes involving commissioners and county management in the past year.
Sullivan and Thompson have repeatedly criticized Moore, claiming he oversteps his authority. They have often questioned Moore’s statements and proposals at meetings. Most recently, they voted against a proposal to establish a homelessness fund — an idea the county manager presented to commissioners earlier this month.
Last year, an independent behavioral investigation initiated by the county found that Thompson acted inappropriately in an interaction with a county employee. After allegedly placing her hands on the employee, Thompson asked in a loud, frustrated tone, “Do you know what he did?” The comment allegedly was a reference to what she believed was Moore’s decision to intentionally schedule a meeting on a date that ensured she couldn’t attend.
Thompson said in a statement about the investigation that she and county staff were unwilling to share their concerns due to fear of retaliation. Soon after her statement was publicized, Moore sent an email to commissioners offering to resign. Soon after that, Lee called for Thompson’s resignation.
When Lee finished reading the most recent statements Wednesday, he adjourned the meeting. But minutes earlier, Sullivan had asked for more time to prepare her commissioner’s report — typically the last item on the meeting agenda — and had not yet offered her remarks.
Soon after Lee called for the adjournment, Sullivan began to speak.
“I, I, I would like … ,” Sullivan started to say.
But Lee quickly interrupted.
“Meeting’s adjourned,” he said sternly.