The Roseburg City Council is scheduled to discuss the fate of Councilor Ashley Hicks on Monday, and the debate will be held in public rather than behind closed doors, as had previously been planned.
Hicks sent an email to City Recorder Amy Sowa on Tuesday, notifying Sowa of her decision to hash the matter out in open session. The subject line was: “Coercion Meeting February 24.”
The email read:
As I already mentioned in a previous phone call discussion. I will not meet with council or staff in executive session to coerce my elected representative position.
I agree to a Public Session so everyone can be held accountable to the public.
See you then
City officials said the decision on whether to hold the discussion in public, or behind closed doors — known as an executive session — was up to Hicks.
The dispute dates back to the Jan. 27 council meeting. Hicks, who has been on the council since January 2017, had been advocating on social media that a city-owned property on General Avenue — across from the Shadow Ranch Mobile Home Park — be used for a homeless shelter.
That didn’t sit well with residents of Shadow Ranch, who sent emails to city councilors opposing the proposal. About a dozen residents from the senior community showed up at the Jan. 27 meeting, and about half voiced their opposition to a homeless shelter in the area.
When the residents were done, Mayor Larry Rich tried to reassure them that a shelter was not coming to their neighborhood.
“I do want to let you know, I apologize to the residents here, that is not something this council has discussed. It’s not a plan to put a homeless shelter out there by your neighborhood. It takes the entire council to discuss it and make a motion and all that stuff, we haven’t even discussed a homeless shelter … I can tell you a homeless shelter has not been debated and discussed among this group. Unfortunately, if someone on the group wants to say something, I guess they can say it as an individual, but it may have come across to you that it came from the council. It did not, the council is not supporting anything at the time. We know and you know where it came from, but I wanted to point out that it takes the council to make that decision and that is not the decision we have made. OK? Just so you’re aware.”
Hicks followed that up with her own comments:
“I just wanted to say how much I appreciate folks coming out tonight and spending their evening at the City Council meeting and bringing forth your concerns. I think that all the concerns are valid and folks have every reason to have concerns about homeless encampments or emergency shelters … I wanted to just explain that I am a resident of Southeast Roseburg, the Roseburg Rescue Mission is about five streets away from my personal residence. The illegal camping is in the backyards of my neighbors and the folks that I represent and so I’m doing my due diligence as a council member as one of Roseburg Ward 4 city representatives speaking for my neighbors that have come to me and come in front of the podium over the years, especially businesses in the downtown and the surrounding southeast Roseburg area asking for help to address the illegal encampments. I’d like to explain that the Roseburg Rescue Mission is responsible for removing thousands of people from homelessness.
“But I just want to take a short minute and reiterate that this issue is actively in our backyard and at the end of our streets, and it’s not that anything that I do or say is any act against the folks … in Shadow Ranch. Again, I appreciated your guys’ time coming forward today and I wanted you to sincerely know that I thank you for your time and also being brave and coming and talking to us as a council and also what the mayor said that the council collectively has not had discussions about addressing this issue of illegal encampments. It’s just something that we expect the police chief, apparently, just to keep chasing around in circles because it’s not going anywhere and at some point in time we’re going to have to address it. And I’m sorry that idea of putting it in North Roseburg offended you.”
Nearly three hours later, during closing comments at the end of the meeting, Councilor Brian Prawitz brought up the matter again and voiced his displeasure with Hicks.
“I think you should cease and desist posting on Facebook on this topic,” Prawitz said. “You went outside the process so badly that you stirred up a good 50 people. This has to stop. It’s irresponsible.”
Prawitz said he thought Hicks should be disciplined, perhaps censured. Rich said he also thought Hicks’ actions might warrant some form of discipline, and outlined three possible options: Not allow her to speak at council meetings, take away her committee chair, or strip her of travel privileges.
“I’ve got to tell you, my feeling tonight is to pull the travel,” he said.
After the meeting, Rich said he would talk to other city councilors about how they wanted to proceed. Rich later said the majority of councilors wanted to bring the matter up at a council meeting during executive session.
However, under state law, Hicks can ask that the matter be discussed in public, which she did.
Rich said he had hoped Hicks would agree to discuss the matter in public “so the citizens can hear both sides of the story.”
“In my book, transparency is imperative to this volunteer position,” she said via email Tuesday. “I’m held accountable by ward four constituents just as the other council members are to theirs. I look forward to the public meeting and the public hearing for themselves.
“Everyone speaking in their own words, on the record in front of the public.”
Monday’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in Roseburg City Hall, 900 SE Douglas Ave.