Clatsop County Manager Cameron Moore apologized Tuesday for skipping last week’s Board of Commissioners meeting and said he would attend in the future.
But the county manager, who last year offered to resign amid conflicts with commissioners, has in recent weeks discussed a potential payout to leave his post, according to sources familiar with the situation.
In an email to Commissioner Scott Lee — the board’s chairman — and County Counsel Heather Reynolds hours before last week’s meeting, Moore cited repeated criticism from Commissioners Kathleen Sullivan and Lianne Thompson in his decision not to attend and cautioned he would not show up for meetings for the foreseeable future.
County managers have traditionally been expected to attend commissioner meetings, present reports and answer questions.
Moore said in a statement Tuesday that his decision was a mistake, “and for that I apologize to the citizens of Clatsop County, the Clatsop County commissioners and the county employees that I have the privilege of working with every day. But I also believe it is important that people understand why I took this step.”
Moore offered a more detailed explanation of why Sullivan’s and Thompson’s words and actions led to his decision. “Inappropriate” contacts and “rude, unprofessional treatment” of county staff and others at meetings have violated the county charter and board policy, Moore said.
“These actions have inflicted unfair stress on county staff as well as disrupting county operations. For well over a year I have been asking, begging, pleading and demanding that these commissioners acquaint themselves with the rules that govern them and consistently comply with them,” Moore said. “My only motivation has been to protect county staff and ensure efficient county operations.”
“Frankly I reached the point where I felt something drastic needed to happen and thought that missing a (board) meeting might finally get these two commissioners to take their roles and the rules that govern them seriously. We shall see.”
Sullivan said Tuesday she is “dismayed” by Moore’s comments and described them as unfounded.
“My job as an elected official is to ask questions, which I have done,” Sullivan wrote in an email. “My questions are a way to enlarge the public’s understanding of how their tax dollars are spent. I feel comfortable with my relationship with county staff and respect the jobs that they do. I am proud of the work I’ve done as a commissioner and will continue working on behalf of the residents of Clatsop County.”
Thompson said it is critical for the county manager to attend board meetings.
“I appreciate Mr. Moore committing to do his job by attending (board) meetings,” she wrote in an email. “That is critical if we, as elected leaders, are to do our jobs of providing governance and accountability for the work of the county. I look forward to finding better ways to ensure all of us can do our job effectively in a professional manner.”
Moore, an experienced administrator who started working for the county in April 2016, was hired to bring stability after a succession of nine county managers in 16 years. He received a largely positive performance review from the majority of commissioners last year, but private and public clashes between commissioners and county management have been common.
Threatening legal action against the county over commissioners’ statements and actions, Moore has asked for a financial deal that would allow him to leave his position, sources said. Officials have not publicly offered specifics about the request.
“If he did make a deal, I wasn’t interested in it,” Lee said.
Moore, who is budgeted to earn $157,590 this year, is not entitled to severance pay in his employment contract if he resigns. But if commissioners fire Moore without cause, he would receive the same rate of pay and full medical benefits for six months.
Both Sullivan and Thompson have repeatedly claimed that commissioners do not have an adequate role in the day-to-day operations of the county. Moore and the other commissioners, in turn, have accused Sullivan and Thompson of attempting to direct the work of county staff, which they say violates the county charter and board policy.
Emails between Moore and commissioners in the past six months — obtained by The Daily Astorian through a public-records request — reveal more than a dozen exchanges that highlight the division.
In a December email, for instance, Sullivan expressed disappointment that she was not invited to hiring interviews for a new community development director. Moore responded by saying it was rare for commissioners in the county’s home-rule style of government to be involved in the hiring process of any employee but the county manager.
In other emails, Moore claims that Thompson and Sullivan — to varying degrees — have offered false or misleading information to the public and have made requests of county staff that are beyond their purview. The two commissioners, for the most past, did not respond to any emails in which Moore offered criticism.
Moore announced in an October email that he was eliminating commissioners’ interactions with staff altogether, citing numerous complaints from department heads about Sullivan and Thompson.
Another conversation in September centered on an independent behavioral investigation initiated by the county last summer. The investigation found that Thompson, while discussing her dissatisfaction with Moore, acted inappropriately by allegedly placing her hands on a county employee. Thompson said in a statement that the investigation was an example of why many staffers, due to fears of retaliation, do not share concerns to county management.
Moore then launched an investigation into the allegation, claiming no evidence had been found to support Thompson’s claims. He announced his intention to resign over the matter in a Sept. 15 email to commissioners, but he was dissuaded by Lee and Commissioners Sarah Nebeker and Lisa Clement.
Three days after that email, Moore sent another one addressed specifically to Thompson.
“I am extremely fortunate to also have the funds to hire counsel to help me,” Moore said in response to a similar statement made by Thompson’s attorney. “While I have always encouraged and benefited from honest, thoughtful feedback — positive or negative — throughout my career of almost four decades, I currently find myself in the position of having to respectfully request that you cease making false and defamatory statements regarding my performance as county manager.”
Roughly a month later, Lee called for Thompson’s resignation over her response to the behavioral investigation and her travel expenses relative to other commissioners.
Then, in an April email, another employee alerted Moore about a “confusing and also concerning phone call” in which Thompson allegedly said she was concerned the employee would “end up in court” and that county management had been sending “threatening emails.”
Moore sent an email to Thompson about the incident: “I’m going to make this as simple as possible. Stop harassing members of my staff. Stop undermining the effectiveness of county government operations. Stop making false statements about county management. If you bother to listen, I am sure county counsel will advise you that your actions are creating legal liabilities for the county.”
Sullivan and Thompson also have often questioned Moore’s statements and proposals at meetings.
A recent example came in February when Sullivan proposed adding a letter to minutes from a previous meeting. During the discussion, Nebeker asked Moore for his opinion, but Sullivan objected.
“I would like the commissioners to make the decision,” Sullivan said before Nebeker repeated the request. “Well, point of order, he’s not standing on this board.”
Moore, with a surprised look on his face, paused for a few seconds before saying that he wouldn’t be opposed to adding the letter even though it would be an unusual practice. About 15 minutes later, he declined to give a county manager report, typically the last item on the meeting agenda.
“Well, apparently I’ve said enough, so I don’t have a report tonight,” Moore said.
Later that week, Sullivan sent an email to commissioners and Moore apologizing for the exchange, which Moore did not accept.
“While some of your comments and behaviors during Wednesday’s (board) meeting were disappointing, they were not unexpected. Almost from the time you joined the commission in January 2017 you have treated me with contempt and have demonstrated a high level of indifference to anything I have to say both publicly and privately,” Moore wrote in response.
The county manager said he has had to apologize to county department heads repeatedly for how Sullivan has treated county staff both during and after meetings. “From here on I will address every false statement or instance of rude behavior by Commissioners Thompson and Sullivan in an open and public manner.
This has got to stop.”