The mayor of Phoenix, Ore., is on a mission to “set the record straight regarding false information” being disseminated by Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a candidate for Oregon’s Second Congressional District, about her being fired as city manager in March 2017.
“The narrative that she’s portraying about Phoenix and the reasons behind her contract being terminated are just not true. Period,” said Mayor Chris Luz.
He said the decision was made to send letters to the editors of seven newspapers in Central and Eastern Oregon, includingThe Dalles Chronicle, after McLeod-Skinner recently made “false claims” of financial and personnel problems during an August radio interview.
McLeod-Skinner has also posted “Let’s Talk about Phoenix” on her campaign website, https://jamiefororegon.com, to outline her views of the termination.
“It’s embarrassing for the city of Phoenix to have this information out there,” said Luz. “Jamie was, to put it politely, not a good fit for city manager. She tries to make it seem that she came in on a white horse to clean up corruption, but that is just not reality.”
In an interview with the Chronicle, McLeod-Skinner said she believes Luz is coming against her now for political reasons, and that he orchestrated her firing in retaliation for her challenging the status quo.
She felt that Luz resented her for pointing out when he was overstepping authority that belonged to the council and using the city attorney as his personal counsel.
“I’m very proud of my track record — my 25 years of professional work and public service — and I have an absolute commitment to ethics in government,” she said.
McLeod-Skinner is the Democrat challenger to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican who serves the 20 counties in the Second Congressional District.
Phoenix is a town within the district that is located about three miles southeast of Medford and has slightly under 5,000 residents. Luz said the antagonism displayed by McLeod-Skinner for staff was amply illustrated in the March 8, 2017, hearing to determine her fate after four months on the job. She chose to have the performance review done in a public forum instead of an executive session.
The council decided to terminate her by a 3-2 vote after hearing reports by several department heads.
“She interviewed beautifully; she was wonderful,” said Luz. “She was engaging, funny, intelligent — she knocked it out of the ball park. But a couple months later she was like an entirely different person. She was insulting, condescending and not a team player.”
A recording of the meeting reflects Finance Director Janette Booth describing a “hostile work environment” under McLeod-Skinner’s leadership.
She was accused of talking behind the backs of staffers, who told the council they wondered what was being said when they were not around.
Police Chief Derek Bowker is recorded telling the council that the atmosphere at city hall had become so “toxic” that he asked his records clerk not to go there “unless you absolutely have to.”
“When I see the negativity that’s going on in the city right now, it saddens me,” said Bowker.
Other Pheonix officials also criticized McLeod-Skinner’s leadership.
She believes that personnel and other city records were improperly destroyed, and records retroactively changed to cover up “misappropriations” or errors.
“During my first weeks with the city, it became clear that the City of Phoenix had a serious lack of checks and balances, limited functional processes, chronic unaddressed human resources issue due to inconsistent administrative leadership, decision-making often made at the wrong level, ongoing potential violations with state ethics and public meetings laws, as well as inconsistent and sometimes inaccurate communication with stakeholders,” McLeod said in a report submitted to the council before the 2017 meeting.
She claims Booth was threatened by the changes she was making and colluded with Luz to get her fired.
Luz said after McLeod was let go, the city hired a certified public accounting firm, and then asked interim manager Dave Kanner, who had 30 years of experience in government, to separately review financial records.
No evidence of malfeasance or misappropriation of funds was found during either investigation, noted Kanner in a report to the council.
Although McLeod continues to say that a payroll audit should have been done, Luz said there was no reason for taxpayers to absorb $3,800 for the extra review when no problems were found during the two reviews.
He noted that a 2016 best practices review by City/County Insurance Service had also given the city a 100 percent score in financial controls.
“The concerns I raised would have been proven out in a payroll audit,” insists McLeod-Skinner.
Kanner told the council that allegations of Luz having the city attorney advise him on personal legal matters could not be substantiated. He pointed out the need for procedures on when and by whom the attorney was consulted and for other government processes.
Concerns about violating public meetings and record laws raised by McLeod also lacked details, said Kanner, as did her allegations of financial mismanagement, and could not be verified.
“No one knew what she was talking about; it was a mystery,” said Luz. “We believe that Jamie failed at managing our small city and, to hide those failures, she’s making false statements about Phoenix. This has nothing to do with partisanship, it’s just a matter of setting the record straight.”
For example, he said McLeod-Skinner tries to portray that the city ran off managers by stating that she was the seventh in eight years.
He said she was the third permanent manager since 2007 and the city had two interim managers to fill vacancies. “Our turnover with city managers isn’t what she is trying to make it seem,” he said.
Luz said the review of McLeod-Skinner’s job performance began after he was approached by a city police officer, who told him the chief was thinking of quitting after eight years of service.
He was then approached by other staffers who were in distress about McLeod-Skinner’s treatment of them, said Luz.
“We really had no other option, our city workers were in an uproar,” he said.
McLeod-Skinner said the city attorney had been considered the top candidate for the town’s vacant city manager position that she ultimately filled.
She believes the attorney’s candidacy was derailed by his license being temporarily suspended by the Oregon Bar Association for conduct in a divorce case.
According to McLeod-Skinner, Luz not only had problems working with her because he wanted the attorney hired, he had previously had problems working with another female manager.
News reports state that Luz and another official stepped down from city council in 2011 as part of a lawsuit settlement involving his treatment of a former city manager. The city reportedly chose to settle the suit by having the two men step down instead of spending thousands on an investigation into the “hostile work environment” allegation raised by the woman.
Luz said he was not involved in McLeod-Skinner’s hiring process because he wanted to remain neutral as he would have to work with the chosen candidate.
He ran and was voted into the mayoral office, and has served on many other public boards, because of community trust in his integrity and decision-making skills, said Luz.
McLeod-Skinner said she was a team player who tried to “coach” workers in Phoenix instead of letting them go.
Luz said “coaching” played out like McLeod-Skinner asking the human resources director for a key to the filing cabinet where personnel records were stored on a Friday afternoon. When the woman said she would get the extra set of keys, McLeod-Skinner reportedly said, “No, I want your keys” with no further explanation.
“She didn’t know what was going on, whether Jamie had it in for her,” said Luz.
He said during a winter storm, one employee was late because she had to shovel snow out of the driveway in order to get her car moving.
“She was told, ‘You should have parked at the bottom of the driveway, so you could get to work on time,’”said Luz of the conversation recounted to him by the employee.
McLeod-Skinner denies treating employees at Phoenix with anything but professional courtesy. She said everything in her professional background points to an ability to work well with others.
She was the planner for two government entities in the Silicon Valley of California from 2003 to 2015, developing public policy to address climate change and affordable housing.
From 1996 to 1998, she was a reconstruction and program manager in Bosnia and Kosovo and led a Lutheran refugee services organization from 2000 to 2002.
McLeod-Skinner ran for a city council position while in the Silicon Valley as the underdog and won. She served eight years with a constituency of 120,000, comparable to a state-level rep, while working full-time.
Her efforts to develop a renewable energy portfolio as a city councilor, as well as her focus on housing and development won multiple awards.
She said one former Phoenix staffer now works on her campaign that is staying focused on the need for better health care and other big issues that affect all Americans.
“I know that people roll their eyes and don’t think we can have ethics in government, but I think we can,” she said. “I think it’s really important even if you take a hit for it.”