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Paul Eckert withdraws bid for Roseburg City Manager

Paul Eckert, Roseburg’s final candidate for city manager, withdrew from the city’s hiring process Wednesday.

Eckert was selected by the City Council this past Monday, and city staff began a reference check and background investigation shortly after.

Mayor Larry Rich and City Council President Tom Ryan said Friday they were unable to provide details about why Eckert withdrew from the hiring process.

The City Council will schedule an executive session before its regular meeting on May 13 to discuss the city’s potential next steps, said Human Resources Director John VanWinkle in an email.

Rich said after the City Council makes a decision about how to proceed in its regular meeting, there will be a two-month delay before the city takes additional action.

City councilors could select one of the other candidates as their new final candidate or restart the hiring process by advertising the position again. If they choose to restart the hiring process, it would be the third time the city has advertised the position.

The city initially started the hiring process in September, and city councilors chose to advertise the position again in December after deciding not to offer the position to any of the first applicants.

Rich said he’s OK with the length of time the process has taken.

“No matter what position you hire for, I’m a firm believer that you do your homework, you hire the best candidate, and when you do, everything goes smoothly,” he said. “We want to make sure we get the right fit for Roseburg.

“(Eckert) has a lot of experience and talent that would have been really beneficial, but if he doesn’t want to be here and withdraw his name, then I’m OK,” Rich said.

Eckert worked in the city administration of Sioux City, Iowa, for 16 years before leaving his position as city manager in 2013 amid a retaliation lawsuit that was filed by another city employee against Eckert and the city.

Brittany Scott, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, alleged she faced retaliation for her previous complaints that Eckert sexually harassed her years earlier.

The city settled the lawsuit in 2015 for $300,000. The Sioux City Journal reported the city’s legal fees for the lawsuit cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

Scott, an administrative assistant in the Sioux City public works department at the time, alleged Eckert created a sexually hostile work environment in the early 2000s by making unwanted sexual advances toward her, touching and rubbing her shoulders and sending emails with sexual innuendos, according to The Journal.

Scott said the harassment stopped in 2004 after city councilors in Sioux City inquired about sexual harassment complaints made against Eckert by another female city employee.

Scott alleged the city failed to follow its policies regarding her complaints. She said Eckert retaliated against her for the complaints by demoting her from her full-time position to a part-time position in a different city department.

A U.S. District Court judge in Sioux City dismissed some of Scott’s claims, stating they fell outside the statute of limitations. Eckert vehemently denied the allegations in 2013, according to the Journal.

Roseburg city officials did not comment on whether any aspect of the 2013 lawsuit influenced Eckert’s decision to withdraw from the hiring process.

Rich said the two-month delay before the city’s additional action will give Public Works Director and interim City Manager Nikki Messenger a chance to experience the position.

“She may turn out and say, ‘Hey, I really like doing this job,’ and that will be an option,” Rich said.

The City Council voted 6-1 on April 22 to select Eckert as its final candidate. City Councilor Ashley Hicks voted no.

“I’m just not excited about where we’re at with this,” Hicks said at the meeting.

Hicks said Friday she was happy Eckert withdrew from the hiring process. She had not yet spoken to city officials about Eckert’s withdrawal.

“I’m feeling stoked right now,” Hicks said. “I’m excited.”

She said if the city restarts the hiring process, it might give city councilors another chance to choose from a more diverse applicant pool.

“That’s what I was hoping for from the beginning,” she said.

Gearing up for the future: Douglas County CTE

Editor’s Note: This is the third of a four-part series that will conclude Sunday.

As a way to boost graduation rates and enhance existing career education programs, South Umpqua, Riddle, Days Creek, Glendale and Winston-Dillard school districts agreed to pool resources in 2018 to build a South County Career Technical Education hub.

Douglas County commissioners donated nearly 11 acres of land for the state-of-the-art center that is planned near the Tri City interchange on Interstate 5.

The group was inspired by Salem’s Career and Technical Education Center, according to Douglas Education Service District CTE Regional Coordinator Melody Cornish.

“Rural students deserve the same opportunities,” Cornish said.

Glendale, Riddle and South Umpqua will start career technical education classes at South Umpqua High School to see how the program will work logistically. The first semester the school will offer construction, the following a drafting course.

While all the South County districts can see the benefits of the hub, the cost per student has caused Days Creek and Winston-Dillard school districts to take a step back in the effort. Both districts are still involved in meetings while analyzing programs already in existence at their respective schools.

Winston-Dillard School District Superintendent Kevin Miller said he is concerned about the high cost per student.

“The cost per student is really very high. It’s between $8,500 and more,” Miller said. “The county was kind enough to donate the land, which is an awesome piece of land. Perfect for what we need it for, but that doesn’t drive the student cost down.”

Douglas High School offers metals, woods and agricultural science, but the South County hubs would also include a construction course.

“It was hoping to be another offering for the students who would be participating. It would still be great, but that much per kid and you’re only serving a handful of kids it gets real expensive, real quick,” Miller said. “I think it’s a model for the future, but I don’t know that we have the economy down here and the population base to support it, yet. Maybe we’ll have to get some kind of hybrid program.”

“We’re going to hit 2020,” Cornish said, “which is a mark for people in construction to start retiring and we’re not going to have the workforce to fulfill the demands. We also did student surveys and came to a conclusion on what course to offer.”

The collaboration between the schools earned Oregon Solutions project status from Gov. Kate Brown. Receiving Oregon Solutions status is not just an honor, but also comes with a significant contribution of state funds and support designed to move the project forward. The Ford Family Foundation and Oregon Community Foundation are also among supporters.

Cornish has also worked on the revitalization of health care courses in all of Douglas County’s schools.

The program was expected to have 200 students, but now has 400 students registered for the course that can provide high school graduates with 15 college credits.

“It’s an amazing thing that these students have been able to take traditional classes and take 15 college units in addition,” Cornish said. “Any student who completes the program and completes the prerequisites for the nursing program will get an additional five points on their nursing application.”

She has also been working to make health care related programs available to students during summer vacation, including a free of charge emergency medicine camp through Douglas County Partners for Student Success’ Expanding Horizons camp in June.

For schools throughout the county, Measure 98 funds have helped to add new programs, purchase new equipment and plan for future classes.

Glide High School has enhanced its shop classes and continued to work with industries in the community to provide its students with real-life, hands-on experiences.

“Skills and connections are the biggest benefit for students,” said Glide High School instructor Benjamin Kercher to The News-Review in February. “Most jobs are obtained because of a connection. My students have connections.”

At Yoncalla High School, a natural resources program started with two classes and will extend to three classes next school year.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to give the kids some experience to know if they want to be in natural resources, and besides the classes are just fun because they get to go out and do stuff,” Janelle Wilde, natural resources teacher at Yoncalla High School said.

Yoncalla High School also offers business courses on a case-by-case basis and woods and metals courses, which are not registered programs of study with the Oregon Department of Education.

Funding for the next biennium will like go to the natural resources programs, more career development events, and stations such as axe throwing and chainsaw skills.

“I’ll tell you what, I know that axe throwing is not something you would use in the real world, but it’s fun and that’s what I’m trying to capture with the kids,” Wilde said. “It gives the kids a satisfaction, they’re all paying attention, they want to participate and it’s outside, it’s getting active and so I really think we will see this pay off in the end.”

Two contested races for UCC board of directors

Umpqua Community College’s board of education has two contested races in the May election.

Twila McDonald, Vincent Portulano and Kristapher Yates are all running for zone 1, a spot vacated by Betty Tamm who had been sworn in July 2007. Incumbent Doris Lathrop and Keri Pratt will face off for zone 2.

Current zone 4 director David Littlejohn is running an uncontested race for zone 3. Erica Mills is the only candidate to take over the remaining two years of Littlejohn’s original term in zone 4.

Littlejohn said he remains passionate about education and would like to continue serving on the board of directors, but he recently moved into zone 3. Wendy Weikum is the current zone 3 director and decided not to run.

Randy Richardson is also running uncontested for zone 6, Southeast County, which was vacated by Joelle McGrorty after two years on the board.

Guy Kennerly, zone 5, and Steve Loosley, zone 7, are not up for reelection.

Here is a little more detail about the candidates for zone 1 and 2:

Zone 1

Twila McDonald

McDonald is a district manager and vice president of U.S. Bank who graduated with a master’s degree in management from Southern Oregon University. She also has a bachelor’s degree in management and marketing from the University of Oregon and attended both Lane Community College and Umpqua Community College.

From 2009 to 2015 McDonald was a member of the Yoncalla School Board.

McDonald did not return a phone call and email from The News-Review.

Vincent Portulano

Portulano was elected to the Oakland school board in 2017 and works as a substitute teacher with the Douglas Education Service District and hopes to build stronger bridges with area school to help students prepare for their future.

“A big issue is helping our students with disabilities continue with their education once they graduate from high school,” Portulano wrote in a statement. “The rates of the students with disabilities continuing their education dramatically drop. The services for them take a huge drop in the colleges since those services are very minimal.”

He holds a master’s degree in special education from Grand Canyon University and a master’s degree in MFA from Portland State University. He also has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Washington State University and a general studies associate’s degree from Bellevue Community College.

“We need to see a diversification of relying on state funds from the timber industries,” Portulano wrote. “The state needs to strengthen the community colleges by making them affordable or free of tuition for residents in a set geographical region.”

He also wrote about trying to create a relevant educated job force in the Umpqua basin.

Kristapher Yates

Yates is a senior at the Oregon Institute of Technology, studying operations management with a minor in statistics and psychology.

He graduated from UCC in 2017 where he served as an academic advisor, student life liaison, library aide and tutor.

In June 2015, Yates plead guilty to assaulting a public safety officer in Lane County in 2013.

Yates did not respond to phone calls or emails from The News-Review.

Zone 2

Doris Johnson Lathrop

Lathrop was elected in July 2015 as the zone 2, North Central, board member and is hoping her expertise will provide her the privilege of continuing to serve.

“I have a vast understanding of the current issues around secondary education and my 20 years of service to UCC provided me the foundation for my first term in office for the board of education,” Lathrop said.

Lathrop used to be the director of institutional advancement prior to her retirement. She holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater and a bachelor’s in education from the University of Winsconsin, Eau Claire.

She has served on the school board of the Oregon Community College Association where she regularly met with UCC President Debra Thatcher, as well as selected board members from all 17 community colleges in Oregon.

“I’m current on the community college issues include funding and student success and access,” Lathrop said. “My goal is to advocate, communicate and collaborate in order to strengthen Umpqua Community College for the benefit of our students.”

Keri Pratt

Pratt said she knows how important it is to find a place where you gain the skills required to enter the workforce and if elected she would do her best to ensure valuable educational opportunities are available at a reasonable cost.

“Whether it be for retraining, entering the workforce for the first time, or just furthering your education, the more diverse the course options offered, the more attractive it makes a Community College to prospective students,” Pratt said.

She worked in medical office billing and management for 30 years and said she believes a vibrant and diverse community college is an asset to all citizens of the county.

Pratt also believes in cultivating partnerships with individuals and organizations that can help those students.

Ballots mailed to Douglas County voters

The ballots for the May 21 Special District Election are in the mail and Douglas County voters were expected to begin receiving them as soon as Friday.

Douglas County Clerk Patricia Hitt said 80,037 ballots were mailed to county voters. Among the recipients are 29,743 Republicans, 17,287 Democrats, 4008 to registered members of the Independent party and 28,187 who are unaffiliated or members of minor parties.

Elections officials took the ballots to Springfield Thursday to be mailed from there, because it’s faster and cheaper than paying to deposit them at the Roseburg Post Office, which would send them to Lane County for sorting anyway before they were mailed to voters, Hitt said.

The election will determine who sits on a number of school, fire and other local boards. Also at stake are construction bonds in the Elkton and Winston-Dillard school districts, and a measure to reduce the size of the Reedsport School District board, as well as a Reedsport charter amendment.

Registered voters who have not received their ballots by May 9 should contact the Douglas County Election Office.

Signed and completed ballots can be placed in the mail or in one of the drop boxes located around the county.

Ballots must be received no later than 8 p.m. on May 21, not postmarked by that date. Signing the return envelope is mandatory for ballots to be counted, as signatures must be verified.

Ballot boxes are available at the following locations: Canyonville City Hall, 250 N. Main St.; Douglas County Annex, 680 Fir St., Reedsport; Douglas County Clerk’s Office, Room 124, and courthouse lawn, 1036 SE Douglas Ave., Roseburg; Drain City Hall, 129 West C Ave.; Roseburg Public Library East Parking Lot, corner of Fowler Street and Diamond Lake Boulevard; Glendale City Hall, 124 Third St.; Myrtle Creek City Hall, 207 NW Pleasant; Riddle City Hall, 647 1st Ave.; Sutherlin City Hall, 126 E. Central Ave.; Umpqua Community College Library, 1140 Umpqua College Road; Winston City Hall, 201 NW Douglas Blvd.; and Yoncalla City Hall, 2640 Eagle Valley Road.