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Roseburg city officials say City Councilor Ashley Hicks may have violated city rules with complaint to DEQ

Roseburg City Councilor Ashley Hicks recently filed a complaint with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality describing pollution in the South Umpqua River from homeless people’s riverfront camps.

City Councilor Tom Ryan and Mayor Larry Rich think Hicks may have violated city rules by filing the complaint. According to city code, city councilors must first state the official position of the City Council when speaking to another government body. Ryan and Rich said if Hicks filed the complaint as a city councilor, it would violate city rules because the complaint reflects Hicks’ personal views, not an official city policy.

At the City Council meeting on March 11, Ryan asked city staff to provide council members with records of Hicks’ communications with the DEQ and the Oregon Department of State Lands.

Ryan and Rich point to a copy of Hicks’ complaint and Hicks’ Facebook posts about the complaint as evidence that she may have represented the city in a way that violates city rules.

Ryan said the City Council will review records of Hicks’ complaint and her Facebook posts to determine whether she violated city rules. Rich said in an interview that he plans to ask Bruce Coalwell, the city’s attorney, to review Hicks’ complaint as well. If they find that Hicks violated city rules, the city council could enact sanctions on her.

Hicks disagrees that her complaint violated any rules, however. She said she made it clear to DEQ officials that her complaint reflected her personal views, not an official city council policy, even though she told DEQ she is a city councilor.

A copy of the incident reporting form DEQ filed in response to Hicks’ complaint shows “City Council” in the “Organization” section of Hicks’ contact information.

Hicks said she didn’t misrepresent city policy in her complaint because the City Council has neither discussed the issue of riverfront camps polluting the river, nor created policy addressing it.

“It would be one thing if Council had a conversation about this or we had been working on something,” Hicks said. “But there’s no conversation.”

Hicks, who has been involved in community-organized riverfront clean-ups for several years, said in her DEQ complaint that tents, human feces, garbage, gasoline and other pollutants get into the river when unsheltered people’s camps are abandoned. Several other residents involved in the clean-ups filed complaints with DEQ in conjunction with Hicks.

Hicks frequently criticizes the city on Facebook for not taking action to prevent pollution from entering the river.

On Feb. 6, the same day Hicks filed her complaint, she wrote on Facebook, “Lady called back from DEQ — she said they’ve gotten lots of calls from Roseburg — she said that’s just how it works — they need to get many complaints before getting involved. Apparently, getting a call from a city council member seems to have a bit more weight this time around.”

Ryan and Rich took issue with Hicks’ suggestion that a city councilor’s complaint gets more attention. They added Hicks’ complaint could be misinterpreted as city-sanctioned action.

Katherine Benenati, a spokesperson for DEQ, told The News-Review, “Hicks didn’t state that she was complaining on behalf of the council or the city.”

But city officials are still interested in reviewing the complaint.

“Filing the complaint is strictly beside the point,” Ryan said. “Filing it as a city councilor is not. The council rules say that the only thing that gives you the authority to act as a city councilor is the City Council.”

Both Ryan and Rich said Hicks has repeatedly tried to use her position as a city councilor without City Council’s consent to motivate city officials to address the effects of camping on public property.

Hicks said she filed the complaint because the city hasn’t adequately prevented pollution from getting into a public waterway, despite her calls to action.

“They’re not managing it, they’re not protecting it from pollution, they’re not addressing the transient debris and litter,” Hicks said. “They’re leaving it for months at a time until the water takes it.”

Hicks’ complaint drew prompt responses from multiple state agencies.

Shortly after Hicks filed the complaint, David Waltz, the DEQ basin coordinator for the region, contacted the Roseburg Parks Department to “encourage them to enforce a camping ban along the South Umpqua River within the city’s jurisdiction,” according to Benenati.

The city has been cautious about enforcing a camping ban since the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decriminalized camping in public last year.

Benenati said Waltz spoke to Roseburg City Manager Lance Colley “to discuss whether the city has an ordinance that could be enforced to limit potential water pollution.”

“Transient camps and camping in general are regulated by local ordinances,” Benenati said. “When DEQ receives a complaint related to these matters, we reach out to local authorities and work with them in an effort to resolve the issue. Cleaning up such camps, or prohibiting them, generally does not fall under DEQ’s purview.”

Waltz also told Pat Cook, Roseburg parks superintendent, the city could also help address the issue by installing more trash cans and doing more park maintenance, according to an email Waltz sent to Cook.

Colley also spoke to a Department of State Lands official and a regional solutions coordinator with Gov. Kate Brown’s office who responded to Hicks’ complaint. They discussed the possibility of the state acquiring jurisdiction of the South Umpqua River in order to help manage pollution, according to an email Colley sent to Hicks.

The Department of State Lands would have to conduct a “navigability study” to determine if the city’s section of the river meets criteria to be managed by the state, according to Colley’s email.

“A navigability study would be very complex, time consuming, costly and likely provide no benefits to address your concerns,” Colley said. “The state would have to do a multi-year study, transfer ownership from hundreds if not thousands of private property owners along the river, and their ownership and jurisdiction would only go to the high bank, but every private property owner would lose land from their current ownership along the entire river that was declared navigable.”

Hicks is unsatisfied with the city’s response, she said. She added the response shows the city continues to be unwilling to take meaningful action to address the issue.

But city councilors and other city officials assert they want to address the problem.

“Everyone wants to clean up the population and the river. It’s just that we have to follow the laws,” Ryan said referring to constraints from the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. “We certainly can’t make the police do anything illegal.”

The Roseburg City Council may put the topic of Hicks’ complaint on a future meeting agenda to discuss whether she violated city rules, according to Ryan.

Councilors could vote to sanction Hicks as a result. Sanctions could include Hicks not being recognized to speak at meetings, being formally censured and having official travel restricted, according to city code. Sanctions can also remove city councilors from commission chairs, but Hicks doesn’t currently chair any city commissions.

Hicks said sanctions wouldn’t have any tangible effect on her. She added the inquiries into her complaints are an effort to retaliate against her for criticizing the city.

“I’m serving my constituents of my community,” Hicks said. “The council rules don’t really mean shit. There are no consequences that they can take toward me that I haven’t already endured.”

Sutherlin First Citizens named Saturday

WINCHESTER — Sutherlin Area Chamber of Commerce President Tami Trowbridge and Sutherlin firefighter Mike Buck were named Woman and Man of the Year Saturday at the annual Sutherlin First Citizens Awards Banquet at Umpqua Community College.

Sutherlin Chamber of Commerce board member Terry Prestianni presented Trowbridge’s award. He said Trowbridge works tirelessly on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Sutherlin Downtown Development corporation, of which she was one of the original creators, and anything else that might benefit the community.

“It’s through her leadership and innovative ideas that these groups have grown into what they are today and have accomplished a lot for the city of Sutherlin and surrounding areas,” Prestianni said.

He said Trowbridge convinced the Sutherlin City Council to turn over tourism development to the Chamber, played a key role in obtaining funds to transform Central Avenue, and helped fund and design downtown holiday decorations.

“I think we can all agree those are pretty amazing, aren’t they?” he said to applause.

But what matters most, he said, is that somebody cares.

“The one thing we can say about Tami Trowbridge is that she cares about the people in our community. She cares about the success of our community,” he said.

Trowbridge said she was deeply honored by the award.

“I love serving with all of you guys and working with all of you people. This has been some of the best years,” she said.

2017 Man of the Year Jon White presented Buck’s award. White said the year he won, he was told he’d get to ride in the fire truck during the parade, but they canceled the parade.

“I just hope that this year’s nominee gets to ride in the fire truck,” he said.

He said Buck has gone “from zero to hero” in the two years he’s been with the Sutherlin Fire Department.

Buck said after joining Family Church 13 years ago he had the opportunity to serve the less fortunate in Mexico, and when he returned he had new inspiration.

“I was meant to serve. I never felt that feeling before. I always felt like an outcast, I always felt weird. But I never felt more right than when I was serving, and over the years it has been awesome,” Buck said.

He said being able to serve is in itself all the thanks he needs.

Also honored Saturday was Outstanding Educator Melissa Jmaeff, who was lauded for growing the music program at Sutherlin High School. Principal Kevin Hunt said the school had a half-time music program and no band before Jmaeff came on board, and now it has 98 band students and three choir classes. Hunt said Jmaeff has laid a foundation for the music program that he hopes will extend for many years.

Marshall’s Towing was named Outstanding Business. Janelle Edelman of Nelli’s Deli said the company’s owners, Marshall and Elaine Jennings, have provided vehicles to local fire departments for training and been foster parents to many children of all ages.

“For over 30 years they have been providing a service with integrity and honor,” Edelman said.

The Outstanding Service award was given to Richard George, the director of the Sutherlin-Oakland Emergency Food Pantry. Sutherlin Library Director Pat Lynch said one person who was served by George said, “I was delivered a breathing machine, two Orange Crushes, and a large Milky Way. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Renee Lillie was named Inspirational Leader. Chamber Treasurer Theresa Solem said Lillie has been a champion of small business and helped bring Small Business Saturday to Sutherlin. She also gave soap to homeless people at Feed the Burg, and helped women in Third World countries break out of poverty by learning to make soap for sale.

Trowbridge also presented the President’s Award to two Sutherlin city officials, Community Development Director Brian Elliott and Public Works Director Aaron Swan. She lauded Elliott for his professionalism and support for development, as well as for single-handedly keeping a warming center open for two nights. She lauded Swan for his work on the city’s infrastructure, as well as for convincing many city employees to complete the training to become firefighters.

Two-alarm fire displaces Sutherlin family, under investigation

SUTHERLIN — When Amber and Randy Brandies noticed the two cars engulfed in flames while driving by a residence on South Calapooya Street early Saturday morning, they didn’t hesitate.

They turned around on nearby Southwest Valentine Avenue in Sutherlin and immediately called 911, they said.

After the fire was reported at 2:11 a.m. Saturday, firefighters arrived to find flames from two fully engulfed cars spreading quickly to the nearby single-family structure.

The blaze at the home near Driftwood Market in Sutherlin was quickly upgraded to a two-alarm fire, drawing a total of 33 firefighters from Sutherlin, Fair Oaks, Kellogg, Oakland, Douglas Fire District No. 2 and others to the scene.

Sutherlin Battalion Chief Avery Hazzard said the fire was knocked down in about 45 minutes. Hazzard said the house is uninhabitable and six occupants were displaced with help from the Red Cross.

Both could see frantic owners rushing numerous pets out of the home, including dogs and birds.

“I was like, put them in my car (to keep them warm),” she said.

“It’s all I could do,” Amber Brandies said. “I wish I could do more.

No humans were injured as a result of the fire. Firefighters confirmed that at least one dog perished in the fire and perhaps other pets as well.

As Amber Brandies talked about the pets that did not make it from inside the house, a cry of anguish could be heard from up the darkened sctreet..

“I’m guessing that’s what they just told them,” Amber said, her voice breaking.

She paused for a moment.

“It’s heart-breaking,” Brandies said. “Because I know how they feel. They’re like children.”

Firefighters were still on scene as of 5 a.m. Saturday. The fire is under investigation by the Oregon State Police and State Fire Marshal’s office.