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State dismisses whistleblower case against Downtown Roseburg Association by former director Alyssa McConnel

The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Civil Rights Division dismissed a complaint filed against the Downtown Roseburg Association by Alyssa McConnel, the former executive director of the association.

The “complaint filed with the Civil Rights Division has been dismissed because the Division did not have sufficient evidence to continue our investigation,” read a January letter from the division to McConnel.

In her complaint, McConnel said the association retaliated against her for protected whistleblowing activities by firing her in April 2018 after she raised concerns over how the City of Roseburg used funds collected by ParkSmart, which contracts with the association for downtown parking enforcement.

The city gives the association $22,000 per year, and ParkSmart turns over the parking fees it collects to the city.

In March, McConnel outlined her concerns to association board members by sending messages in a closed message group. McConnel stopped raising her concerns at the board’s request, but she was fired a few weeks later.

“(McConnel) alleged she was concerned about the parking revenue that (the association) was ‘kicking back’ to the city with no discernable consideration, and she raised concerns regarding noncompliance with their contracts,” read a complaint dismissal memo from Stacy Shaw Shahak, an investigator with the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

The association denies any misconduct related to parking revenue, according to the memo. It fired McConnel because she failed to “maintain productive relationships” with board members, city officials and others, the memo states. The association also said McConnel made “repeated public derogatory and baseless comments regarding the city,” according to the memo.

While her concerns were made in good faith, Shahak said, “(McConnel’s) allegations regarding the contract lend some legitimacy to (the association’s) assertion that (she) did not have a thorough understanding of the contracts she was criticizing.”

The burden of proof fell on McConnel to provide substantial evidence her harms are causally linked to her protected whistleblowing activity.

McConnel said Tuesday she was unable to prove her case in part because she was unable to acquire sufficient financial records from the city regarding the association’s contract, budget and use of funds.

The deadline to appeal the Bureau of Labor and Industries dismissal is Monday, April 15.

The association declined to comment on the dismissal because the appeal deadline has not passed.

Search suspended after report of man in South Umpqua River

A man reported to be struggling in the high water and swift current of the South Umpqua River on Tuesday evening was not located by first responders and is presumed drowned.

The Roseburg Fire Department and Douglas County Fire District No. 2 responded to a report of a male in a dark sweatshirt flailing his arms about in the water at 5:48 p.m. Personnel were unable to locate anyone matching the description while conducting both a visual and shallow-water search.

“We searched the area where he was last seen and turned up nothing,” said Roseburg Fire Department Battalion Chief Chris Sutton said Tuesday night. “We are terminating our search until the water recedes some. Obviously, we are dealing with some hazardous conditions with some high water, debris and the flood.”

Trained rescue swimmers examined the area around the man’s last reported position, wading and using paddles to search below the surface. A pontoon boat was available and would have been deployed had a subject been visible in the water, Sutton said.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deployed its marine unit, but did not venture down the river from its staging area at Templin Beach Park, Sutton said. Other agencies that deployed included the Roseburg Police Department and Umpqua Valley Ambulance. Members from the Roseburg Fire Department and Oregon State Police monitored the South Umpqua River from Stewart Park.

Emergency crews warned that due to ongoing weather conditions, high water levels and large amounts of debris that individuals should use caution and stay away from swift moving rivers and streams.

On Sunday, a 9-year-old reported a man yelling for help and clinging to a log in the North Umpqua River near Colliding Rivers viewpoint, according to the sheriff’s office.

Sutherlin City Council discusses possible repeal of marijuana ban

SUTHERLIN — The Sutherlin City Council on Monday discussed the possibility of lifting the city’s ban on medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries.

Although voters statewide legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, the City of Sutherlin banned all marijuana businesses in 2016 after residents voted to prohibit it within city limits.

The marijuana industry has boomed across the state in recent years, with many rural communities receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue from recreational businesses.

At its regular meeting Monday, the City Council directed city staff to research the viability of marijuana businesses if the city lifted the ban. It also directed city staff to gather information about how revenue could be used on public safety initiatives.

Fifty-three percent of Sutherlin voters elected to ban the businesses in 2016. The City Council could vote to repeal the ban without going to the voters, according to Oregon law. But councilors said Monday they wanted to be respectful of residents’ previous decision to prohibit marijuana.

The City Council said it was inclined to put an advisory measure on the ballot to see how voters feel about the issue more than two years after the original vote. The measure wouldn’t change any city code, it would give city officials information about residents’ positions.

“I would entertain that advisory ballot and put it out to the folks again,” said Mayor Todd McKnight. “My concern was they already voted for this.”

City Councilor Seth Vincent said people’s opinions on the issue may have changed since they voted to prohibit it.

“I would agree with taking a look at it,” Vincent said. “It was put before the citizens to start with and the citizens, as a whole, said, ‘Hey, no, we don’t want that right now.’ Time has gone by.”

Vincent said he has talked about the issue with residents recently. Many people who used to be strongly against marijuana businesses opening in town are now more open to it, he said. He added it would be worth collecting information about the benefits and risks of lifting the ban.

City Councilor Michelle Sumner said she wanted an estimate of how much tax revenue the city could receive if it lifted the ban. She also wanted to know if the revenue would offset any additional costs like a rise in calls for service.

Ten percent of the revenue the state collects from marijuana businesses is distributed to cities. Seventy-five percent of that is based on the city’s population, and 25% is based on the number of marijuana licenses within the city compared to the total number statewide. The city could also enact a 3% local tax on marijuana sales.

“If we were to change the vote, I think it would be fair to our citizens to have some kind of educational campaign to say why we were looking at changing it,” Sumner said. “And that would be because of the benefits of getting the funding and what we would do with it. Primarily, it would be good to have the funding to do something positive. For instance, something like our K-9 program.”

City Councilor Tom Boggs said while he has never been a proponent of marijuana, tax revenue from marijuana business could stave off additional taxes in the future.

“It is here, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Boggs said. “We might as well try to establish a couple of business here, get the revenue off of it. I think we can tell the people that’s one way to prevent us from digging deeper into (their) pockets for needs that we have coming down the road.”

City Councilor Forrest Stone said continuing to prohibit marijuana in Sutherlin disadvantages the city compared to nearby areas. Most other cities and the county want to raise revenue with marijuana, he said.

“The commissioners right now in our county are trying to raise revenue any way they possibly can,” Stone said. “All they’re going to do is just say, ‘Well we’re going to allow these in our county.’ And they can build it right on the side of our city limits, and get the county the tax revenue off it, and we get nothing.”