CANNON BEACH - In a burst of anger Monday night, Cannon Beach Fire Chief Cleve Rooper told his rural fire protection district board that the board's method of negotiating a contract with him was "abhorrent."
"You've talked about me like I was a mushroom sitting on a bench," Rooper said. "Everything you've done has been in a public meeting... .This is a sorry state of affairs."
Rooper, whose contract expired in June, said the board had known for five years that it would be up for renewal but had not yet begun negotiations with him.
"Not once did you come to me to ask me what I want," Rooper said.
Rooper's comments came after the board finished discussing the contract during a public meeting Monday night. It was decided that board Chairman Al Aya would go over it with Rooper and report to the board after the discussions.
But when the board asked Rooper how he felt about the contract, Rooper said he was angry. He called the process of deciding what to include in the contract - all done in open meetings - "deeply flawed."
Among the items Rooper objected to was a decision to discontinue a benefit in his past two contracts that would allow him to accumulate up to 60 days of sick leave before losing it. Upon termination or retirement, Rooper would have been eligible to receive 15 days of compensation, estimated to cost about $4,600, according to the former contracts.
The board had decided to remove the benefit from Rooper's new contract. Some members also argued that, since Rooper hadn't been terminated and hadn't retired, he wasn't entitled to the compensation. However, after receiving advice from its attorney, the board agreed Monday night to reimburse Rooper for those days but to stand by its decision to leave the benefit out of the new contract.
The proposed contract calls for a 2.5 percent raise, bringing Rooper's annual salary to $81,080. Rooper has been with the fire district for 39 years, 10 as chief and 29 as a volunteer.
Following Rooper's outburst, board members agreed that they would have preferred discussing the contract behind closed doors. However, they said, state law required them to remain in an open meeting.
"It was very uncomfortable for everyone," said board member Sharon Clyde. "Then, I thought at least if you were there you would understand the whys for everything we did.
"The proper procedure would have been to do the contract and then bring it to you.
"I understand completely, and I feel bad," Clyde added.
Board member Kim Bosse agreed.
"I have felt this was extremely awkward and extremely unprofessional," Bosse said, adding that she had considered leaving the board a couple of times because of the tension the open contract discussions created.
"I have the utmost respect for the job you do," she added. "We might have given the impression to some people that we don't have faith in Cleve, but we feel he has done an excellent job."
Aya said he had talked to Rooper privately early in the discussions and had received a list of requests from the chief. The board voted on those requests, but Rooper said he had expected the list to trigger the negotiations process, not a board vote.
"I completely disagree on your definition of 'negotiation,'" Rooper said.
Aya said he would bring the contract to Rooper, negotiate the terms and make a recommendation to the board.
"My understanding is that you and I will discuss it, and what you don't like, we will discuss it, and I will bring it back to the board," Aya said.