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Controversy at the County: Jack Roberts Forced from Lane Metro?

Has former Lane County Commissioner Jack Roberts been improperly forced out of his position as the executive director of the Lane Metro Partnership? An email from Roberts to public officials details what led to him write a letter of resignation on April 8. The email alleges he resigned  in order to maintain funding from the cities of Springfield and Eugene and from Lane County. He writes, "these things are often as much about personality and other people's ambitions as about merit."

Lane Metro is a nonprofit organization that according to its website is "the official source of economic development and business information for Eugene, Springfield and Lane County Oregon." Roberts is also a regular columnist for The Oregonian newspaper.

Roberts also quotes County Administrator Liane Richardson as saying, she would be willing to restore the full $100,000 of funding to Lane Metro but emphasized, "The commissioners won't approve funding for Lane Metro unless there is a change in leadership."  Recent Lane County Commission agendas don't reflect any public discussion of a change in Lane Metro leadership.

Roberts, a Republican who is a former Oregon Commissioner of Labor and Industries, goes on to express concern that other Lane Metro employees will be terminated and writes "However I do strongly urge you to resist pressure to terminate Phillip or Christina much less to allow outside parties to dictate personnel decisions to you as a board. As a 501(c)(3) organization, this may not even be lawful."

EW has obtained the email written by Roberts that was sent to the board of the Lane Metro Partnership, as well as to the mayor and City Council and other public officials.

Dear Lane Metro Partnership Board Members: In the Register-Guard tomorrow or Wednesday, there will be a story about the Lane Metro Partnership. I¹m not entirely sure what the article will report but as members of the board you are entitled to know the underlying facts before you read about them in the paper.

On March 27 I met with Lane County Administrator Liane Richardson, Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz and Springfield City Manager Gino Grimaldi. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss whether all three jurisdictions would be willing to continue funding the Lane Metro Partnership at the current level if I resigned as executive director.

Previously, Grimaldi and Richardson had informed me that funding for the Metro Partnership would not be included in their proposed budgets for Springfield and Lane County, respectively. Ruiz indicated that funding would be included in his proposed budget for Eugene and would be utilized for economic development in some other form if the Metro Partnership died due to lack of funding from Springfield and Lane County.

As board members, you understand how tight out budget is and know that without funding from Lane County and Springfield we could not operate through the next year. Consequently, even though neither Grimaldi nor Richardson had initially suggested that I was the reason for their decision not to continue funding the Metro Partnership, I suspected this might be the case and therefore offered to resign if that would make it possible for them to would agree to continue our funding.

At the meeting on March 27, Grimaldi indicated that budgetary conditions did not allow him to restore the full funding of $50,000 a year but said that he could come up with $25,000. Richardson said she would be willing to restore the full $100,000 but emphasized, "The commissioners won't approve funding for Lane Metro unless there is a change in leadership."

No one told me why they wanted me gone or why they were unhappy with my performance. Nonetheless, I've spent enough time in politics and in government to know that these things are often as much about personality and other people's ambitions as about merit. My feeling, both then and now, was that it was better for me to leave than for a 27-year economic development partnership to die. Therefore, I agreed to leave.

I did express concern that my leaving before the budget process was complete could provide ammunition for those who have long opposed the Metro Partnership on principle or otherwise had eyes on our money. What I offered was to write a letter confirming my agreement to leave contingent on the three jurisdictions maintaining their funding for the Metro Partnership for the next fiscal year.

Two days later I received a phone message from Jon Ruiz confirming that Eugene and Lane County would continue their full funding and that Springfield would commit to at least $25,000. Believing that this was the best that could be obtained, I signed three letters dated April 8 that each read as follows:

"Dear Ms. Richardson, Mr. Ruiz and Mr. Grimaldi:

"Pursuant to our previous discussion, I hereby agree to resign my position as the executive director of the Lane Metro Partnership no later than June 30, 2013, contingent upon Lane County and the City of Eugene maintaining their funding for the Lane Metro Partnership for the 2013-14 fiscal year in the amount of $100,000 and $50,000, respectively, and the City of Springfield making a good faith effort to secure at least $25,000 of funding for the same fiscal year."

I then called Jon Ruiz and asked what he wanted me to do with the letters and he asked that I send all of them to him because "Liane said we don't want these floating around in public." I hand delivered all three letters to Jon personally that week.

That is where I believed matters stood until April 11 when I met with Steve Korth, our board president, and John Brown, our immediate past president. At that point I learned that the agreement I thought we had was changed and that apparently someone claiming to represent the three government jurisdictions had approached some board members with a plan for me to leave by May 1 and that Phillip Hudspeth also be terminated. They apparently also informed them that Glenda Poling would be stepping in as the interim director for the Metro Partnership.

I told Steve and John that these terms were never discussed with me and that I could not support either of them. In particular, while I was and am willing to fall on my own sword, I am not prepared to drag Phillip or Christina on the funeral pyre with me. I personally want to apologize to each and every board member for not informing you of my earlier discussions and in particular for not consulting you before signing my letter agreeing to resign. While I honestly believed that I was making a personal sacrifice for the good of the organization I realize now that I was usurping the prerogative of the board and failing to meet my responsibilities to keep you informed regarding matters that are critical to the continued operation of the Metro Partnership.

If you as a board decide to terminate me for this action, I will not object. However I do strongly urge you to resist pressure to terminate Phillip or Christina much less to allow outside parties to dictate personnel decisions to you as a board. As a 501(c)(3) organization, this may not even be lawful. I know it is not something that any board member should be asked to do by any funder of such an organization.