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YACHATS — A late addition to this week’s Yachats City Council meeting agenda caused the council to take a hard look at itself, and face a few of its deficiencies.

More than an hour into the city’s Wednesday, July 21, virtual council meeting, Mayor Leslie Vaaler added a last-minute agenda item due to the pending departure of Yachats’ contracted finance officer.

“On Monday evening, Tom Lauritzen, with whom we had a contract starting May 5, presented to our city manager his 14-day notice,” Vaaler said. In turn, Vaaler said that Katherine Guenther, city manager pro-tem, sought direction from the mayor and councilors Anthony Muirhead, Mary Ellen O’Shaughnessey, Ann Stott and Greg Scott in an immediate search for a deputy recorder in charge of city finances.

Guenther told the council that in order for Lauritzen to assist with the transition of a new hire, the city needs to take on that new employee as soon as possible. Guenther said that technically she’s not required to gain council approval for posting a job description seeking applicants, but sought council guidance to save steps in the process.

“In the interest of time, it seems like perhaps it makes sense if we do this in a somewhat collaborative fashion from the start,” she said.

Muirhead, the council president and Adobe Resort general manager, was the first to voice his displeasure with the fact the city currently lacks in its ability to hire and retain city staff in a timely manner. Earlier this year, Yachats hired a pro-tem city manager in Lee Elliot, who left after two months on the job. Elliot had come on board after City Manager Shannon Beaucaire left to take a similar position in Carlton.

Muirhead added that he’s unhappy with how the city appears to often have someone already in mind when it goes through the hiring process. Guenther mentioned more than once that Yachats resident Anita Sites, a well-qualified candidate with institutional knowledge of the workings of the city, could be a stop-gap solution to fill the position. 

The city ended a contract with Sites in May for employment assisting with administrative duties at city hall.

“We need to get into the business, as a city, of posting jobs, seeing the applicants that come in and make a decision on our best applicant, and stop making predetermined decisions before we’ve even done the process of hiring anybody,” he said.

Stott said she thought it was “irresponsible” for the council to ask current city staff, already stretched, to train someone with no prior knowledge of Yachats administration when Sites was available.

“I feel like I have a gun to my head, and that’s not a good way to make a decision,” O’Shaughnessey said after stating she preferred to open the position to all interested applicants. She continued by saying, “Any candidate that comes through a search has more legitimacy than someone you just hire because you were desperate.”

Scott bluntly voiced his frustrations.

“I will confess that I am deeply disappointed in this council,” Scott said. “I’m very, very frustrated that we’ve been pushing this thing down the road month after month after month. This is not a traditional recruitment, we all understand that, but we’re talking about someone who already knows this organization, who already knows this community, who probably is as well qualified to teach people how to do the other jobs that need to be done than anybody else available.

“So, this is not about qualifications or a resume or about their willingness to put their shoulder into the effort,” he added. “This is somebody who already knows the job and is perfectly capable of dropping in and doing it, and I am absolutely flabbergasted that this council is wavering on what’s really a straightforward operation.”  

At the end of the conversation, Guenther was tasked with performing a minimal search for applicants, and positing a general job description with a salary range of between $56,000-$60,000.

Also of note from Wednesday afternoon’s Yachats City Council meeting:

• Councilors voted 4-1, with Vaaler casting the lone dissenting vote, to approve spending $10,000 for a preliminary inspection of the Yachats’ Little Log Church and Museum by registered mechanical engineer and Yachats resident Larry Thornton and a team he’s assembled for that task.

Dry rot, holes in the building’s siding and foundation issues initially suggested the most economical approach to moving forward was a complete teardown and rebuild, as reconstruction costs were thought to be unattainable. Thornton offered his services to the city to explore what is absolutely necessary to maintain stabilization of the existing structure, and whether a rebuild is the best move for the future.

“I’m not ready to vote yes,” Vaaler said. “I think that we need more community input. I think that our council has been resisting getting that.”

• Councilors tabled a discussion about a return to hosting in-person meetings. Though pandemic concerns have subsided, a current lack of in-office staff would halt several city services for the duration of the meeting with the attendance of Deputy City Recorder Kimmy Jackson and Guenther, currently serving as both the city’s planner and manger pro-tem. The discussion regarding in-person meetings is expected to resume during the first council meeting in August.

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