DEPOE BAY — A self-appointed committee of city councilors that was supposed to prepare vulnerable Depoe Bay for The Big One instead brazenly defied state law, produced nothing but chaos and left City Hall in shambles.
In the committee’s wake was the unexplained exodus of half the city’s professional staff, a development which disrupted finances, budget planning and regular tasks. Left on the desks of overworked municipal employees was an imposing pile of unfinished projects ordered-up by a busybody group called the “Emergency Preparedness Committee.”
Created in Oct. 2021 to get the town ready for the June, 2022, “Cascadia Rising” statewide tsunami drill, the “ad-hoc” board instead met secretly for months to discuss anything but emergency drills, as it turned out.
The cozy committee was made up of Mayor Kathy Short and fellow councilors Lindsy Bedingfield and Joyce King.
After a public records request in Feb., 2022, exposed the trio’s surreptitious meeting style, former City Recorder Barbara Chester directed the maverick committee to announce future meetings and publish minutes “so that we adhere to the Public Meetings Laws.”
Mayor Short responded to the unusual admonishment at the March 1 council session, blaming COVID and excusing the committee because they “had only been gathering information.” Councilor Bedingfield dismissed the flap, claiming against the advice of experts that three councilors doing city business didn’t comprise a quorum, anyway.
So what was the committee actually doing? Was it soberly updating emergency plans, or partnering with first-providers to gird Depoe Bay for a natural catastrophe? Did it make residents safer from The Big One?
Hardly, according to Chestler, who claimed she was badgered and threatened with an executive session for trying to reign-in the defiant committee. In a whistleblower complaint later sent to Mayor Short and the city attorney, Chestler reported the following:
“The Committee…has continually met on a weekly basis in City Hall without notice, an agenda, minutes and without the allowance of public participation. There has only been one brief report to the council of this committee’s activities. These are three council members conducting city business. There have been grant applications prepared and not on record with the city’s council, or filed in the recorder’s office, MOU’s (Memorandums of Understanding) requested and negotiated without notice to the council or the recorder’s office.”
Chestler added, “On February 11, 2022, it was found this committee was conducting ‘other’ city business, soliciting to spend city funds and giving direction and projects to staff to complete. This was being done outside of a full quorum or knowledge of the council.”
Chestler, with an unblemished 40-year career in public service, informed Short and the attorney she was filing the complaint “for my protection as the city’s recorder and for the protection of the city.”
Then the recorder who had been largely responsible for restoring order to the town’s desperate finances quit, claiming the committee was looking for a way to fire her. Left on Chestler’s desk was a March 31 memo from Mayor Short claiming the emergency committee had other things to do and ordering the besieged recorder to arrange “a huge public push to get the (Cascadia Rising) exercise coming up in June promoted and organized.”
To divert attention from its self-inflicted wound, the city council at Councilor Fran Recht’s urging launched an “investigation” into the city recorder’s final paycheck, which had swelled about $11,000 with two years of unclaimed vacations and comp time. When the city’s chief financial clerk subsequently quit in disgust, Mayor Short ordered city hall public hours cut by half. In an ironic twist, the town’s tsunami warning sirens were declared inoperable.
How did the city council react to this upheaval? Apparently duped or callous to the damage it caused, the city council voted 6-1 to reward the committee with fulltime status in August, 2022, allowing it a staff secretary and other costly trimmings.
Only Councilor Jerome Grant voted against the shocking motion, stating the obvious: “The city doesn’t need another committee to manage.” Short was silent during the one-sided debate, having just resigned from the committee to distance herself from the open-meetings fiasco.
Grant said he was running for mayor against Short on Nov. 8 in part to get meddling city councilors out of City Hall, where they have no business.
Though charged with maintaining a “high level of readiness” for a wide array of emergencies, the committee announced on Oct. 4 it would take the month off, disregarding another statewide drill, “The Great Oregon Shakeout” slated for Oct. 20.
“While tremors are often reported off the Oregon coast, it was no earthquake that shook Depoe Bay City Hall. Instead, it was a tidal wave of arrogant and inexperienced elected officials that left the town’s fragile government in needless disarray.”