February 2006

Demanding Accountability



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Medford’s Problem Government

By US~Observer Investigative Reporters
Curt Chancler and Jeanne Wollman

Medford, OR - Medford is a beautiful old town in Southern Oregon originally settled by adventurous, hard working pioneers. From the beginning the timber industry and farming community provided the economic base. Now, with the downturn in logging and the loss of the lumber mills; with farming being continually downsized due to the loss of market and a need for land to build on; a media that doesn’t report the news in an unbiased manner; a city government that has become non-responsive to the public and rapacious in its need for money, changes need to be made. And worst of all—the public has for too long ignored its duty to demand the best from elected officials.

In Medford it appears that this neglect has resulted in all significant power being vested in a City Administrator who has little interest in conferring with others. His method of dealing with subordinates has been explained as “My way or the highway!”

Back in 1997, 40 or more of Medford’s most prominent business leaders formed a loosely-knit group known as the Action Committee. This group was not happy with the no-growth policy of then city manager, “Andy” Anderson. These city movers and shakers encouraged several of the City Council members and the mayor to remove Anderson. From local sources it was reported that his policies were not considered in the best interest of Medford businesses. Anderson was removed. His leaving created a storm of controversy and an acrimonious division within the community.

A year later, after much searching and many negotiations, Michael Dyal of Orem, Utah was hired to fill the position of City Manager. The Medford paper described him as a gregarious man. The problem that has arisen since his moving to Medford is that it is now known that he is gregarious only on his terms.

The City Administrator holds the most powerful position in city government and oversees all departments including the police. He can only be overruled by a vote of the majority of the City Council. He seems to wield that power with a heavy hand. Through his efforts changes were made to the City Charter so he can hire and fire “at will” without explanation. The only ones beyond his control are the Mayor, City Council and those in the city judiciary.

The City Council, with a “head in the sand” approach, has taken the position of not asking questions or demanding answers from the City Manager. They have evidently abdicated their positions and power to the man from Utah.

The city council has consistently either not listened, or actively neglected to hear, complaints regarding City issues from both the public and city employees regarding problems with the police and the planning departments, as well as a recent debacle with retirees over their medical insurance. All of these strain the city finances and lower morale.

The City Planning Department has been decimated by planner after planner leaving. Some go quietly by exercising their right to early retirement and others cite the oppressive work environment as their reason for leaving. One would have to wonder how hard recruitment is going to be considering the spreading reputation of the city administrator’s management style.

The serious accusations of former city attorney, Ron Doyle, and other retired city personnel, in regard to the City Manager’s action making it more difficult for them to continue their city health insurance program must be considered. It appears that once again Dyal has opened the city to serious (and costly) litigation.

The deterioration of the Medford Police Department is notable. The incidents of clashes between citizens and police, has risen sharply. It would seem that some of the police deliberately foster a “them against us” mentality. They insert themselves into situations where other local law enforcement has vigorously requested that they not interfere. They promote officers that have been caught by their own cameras behaving in an unprofessional manner. The appearance of creating revenue enhancement over good police practice is unfortunate but often true. Officers like Tim George who have stood silent regarding corruption and even covered-up the same get promoted. George has even elevated himself to a position where he will run for Sheriff in the next election.

Can these situations be explained by a process that filters all problems through a city manager focused on his own agenda? And what is City Manager Dyal’s agenda? Could it be a vision of ever expanding power and an ever pressing need for ready cash to fund that expansion? Does he use the power and influence of the local “good old boy” system in controlling public affairs? Is the government being run for the enrichment of a few over the rights and desires of the public?

The next question to arise is—where are the citizens that voted these people into office? What is wrong is that there is no outcry over an avaricious, out of control government run by back room deals orchestrated by those with their own agenda?

No matter how great the scenery and how varied the local attractions, city government under the direction of Michael Dyal can currently only be seen as a negative for the community. It would appear that if he had a shelf life it has expired.

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