Ashley Hicks started her tenure on the Roseburg City Council embroiled in controversy. She’s ending it the same way.

This time, Hicks is leveling charges that City Manager Nikki Messenger does not live within city limits, as her contract — and the city charter — require. Instead, Hicks says, Messenger bought an aging town home within the city that she claims is her residence, when she does not really live there.

Hicks maintains that Messenger really lives in a much larger home she owns outside of city limits in the Melrose area near the South Umpqua River. That four-bedroom, two-bath home, which sits on 2 acres, was built in 2000, covers 2,258 square feet and is worth $611,686, according to the county assessor.

The two-bedroom, 1½ bath town home located just north of the Garden Valley Shopping Center in Roseburg that Messenger lists as her residence was built in 1972, covers 1,296 square feet and is worth $161,414, according to the assessor.

Messenger bought the town home from her predecessor, Lance Colley, just over a year ago for $130,000. Colley paid $85,000 for it in 2013, county records show.

Colley, who was city manager for seven years before retiring in February 2019, also owned a home outside the city limits and, like Messenger, used the nearly 50-year-old town home to satisfy the residency requirement.

Hicks said the fact that Messenger and Colley used the same town home to establish residency when they didn’t live there amounts to “a history of fraud.”

“At this point in time I’m looking into hiring a private investigator and spending my own money to investigate,” Hicks said. “If she’s not living in that condo then she’s committing fraud, and there’s a history of fraud going back to Lance.”

Hicks said she is making an issue out of the residency requirement because it is important, even if not everyone sees it that way.

“She’s the highest paid employee in the city and she’s under a contract to live here. You can’t just breach contracts anytime you want because it’s convenient to you,” she said. “If they’re going to lie about this, what else are they lying about? That’s why it matters. There’s rules in place and the people in these positions have to follow those rules.”

Hicks also said City Recorder Amy Sowa told her the fact that Messenger had registered to vote at the Roseburg town home address is enough to satisfy the residency requirement.

But Hicks, pointing to state records showing Messenger used that address to vote, sees it differently.

“Casting a ballot at a residence that she doesn’t live at is a crime,” she said, adding that she is in the process of filing a formal complaint with state election officials.

Messenger declined to comment and referred questions to her attorney.

County records show that Messenger bought the Melrose area home in 2011, when she was the city’s public works director, which did not carry a residency requirement. She was appointed interim city manager in April 2019 and took over the job permanently on Sept. 1, 2019. She closed on the Roseburg town home she bought from Colley 37 days later.

Hicks brought up the housing issue at the Nov. 9 city council meeting. During the meeting, which was held via Zoom, Hicks said she was lodging a formal complaint against Messenger, alleging that she did not live within the city.

On a 6-1 vote, with Hicks alone voting for an investigation, the city council decided not to look into the matter.

“It would appear that we’re not interested in investigating this and we’re not going to. Thanks,” said City Council President Bob Cotterell, who was presiding over the meeting.

ESTABLISHING RESIDENCY

Hicks doubled down last week with an email she sent to local media. In it, Hicks laid out what she said were the facts regarding Messenger’s violation of the residency requirement, including details on the ownership of the town home by Messenger and Colley.

This is how Hicks ended the email:

“One of several scenarios is at play here:

Colley and Messenger just happen to have held the same position and purchased the SAME shit box townhouse FROM EACH OTHER and slept there 51 percent of the time. Unethical, probably. Technically compliant — I suppose.

Colley and Messenger just happen to have held the same position and purchased the SAME shit box townhouse FROM EACH OTHER and it sat empty for 7 years. Ethical — NOPE. Technically compliant: Hell NO!”

Cotterell and Mayor Larry Rich brushed aside Hicks’ complaint, saying it has no merit.

“Nikki does live within the city limits,” Rich said. “She bought a house in the city when she accepted the job. She is paying taxes to the city of Roseburg just like everyone else does who lives within the city limits. Since she kept her other house in the county, she is now paying taxes and mortgages on two houses. That’s not easy to do economically, but it demonstrates her dedication to the city of Roseburg.”

Cotterell concurred, saying Messenger had done everything required of her to meet the residency requirement.

“Nikki bought a condo in the city. If she sleeps there, she sleeps there. If she doesn’t she doesn’t,” he said. “Does she live in the city limits? Well she’s registered to vote here. She’s done everything the charter is designed to do.

“This is an entirely manufactured thing from Ashley. We’ve been over this. Councilor Hicks refused to take no for an answer, and at some point we just got tired of hearing from her,” he said.

Rich also acknowledged that he’s not a big fan of the residency requirement.

“It is in our charter, so we have to follow it unless we take it to the voters for a change,” he said. “I personally feel it is an unnecessary rule. We hire the best person possible for the job and expect that person to have the best interest in Roseburg at all times. Nikki was a great hire. We fully support her and appreciate all that she has done.”

Messenger’s contract calls for her to make $155,000 a year. She also gets five weeks’ vacation, 12 sick days a year, and $250 a month for gas allowance.

There is also a residency clause in the contract:

“Employee agrees to establish residency within the Roseburg city limits within six months of assuming her duties under this Agreement, unless the City Council agrees otherwise.”

DIFFERENT STYLES

Messenger grew up in Richland, Washington, but both of her parents graduated from Roseburg High School. She graduated from Washington State University in 1993 with a degree in mechanical engineering, and earned her professional engineering license in 2009.

Messenger began working for Roseburg in 1995 as an engineering technician, and quickly rose through the ranks of the Public Works Department. She spent a couple of years away from the city working for Roseburg-based MAP Engineering Inc. and Douglas County Public Works, before returning in 2006. She was promoted to public works director in 2008.

She took over as interim city manager in April 2019, and as permanent city manager in September of that year.

By all accounts, Messenger has done a solid job during her tenure as city manager. She has kept the city economy on an even keel despite the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus, and has been the guiding force in city council efforts — and more recently actions — to address the issue of homelessness in the area.

Hicks often takes a different approach.

She generated controversy even before she was elected to the City Council in November 2016. The former downtown Roseburg coffee shop owner had numerous run-ins with homeless communities, some of which Hicks recorded and posted on Facebook.

Hicks was the target of a brief recall petition in the summer of 2017 that fell short of the signatures needed. Spearheading the recall drive were homeless advocates who complained that Hicks’ public efforts to clean up riverfront camps were really meant to rid the area of homeless people.

During her tenure on the council Hicks’ provocative actions and comments have repeatedly raised the ire of her colleagues, who prefer a more orderly, managed approach. It is not uncommon for councilors to roll their eyes or shake their heads when they feel Hicks is belaboring a point or asking unnecessary questions.

Tensions boiled over at a council meeting this January when a dispute involving Hicks’ interactions with the public via social media — specifically her advocacy for a homeless shelter near the airport that the rest of the council disapproved of — led to calls for her censure.

Hicks was eventually sanctioned during a council meeting in February, losing her ability to travel on behalf of the council and being stripped of her chair position on the Historical Resource Review Commission. Hicks brushed aside the sanctions, calling them “a joke,” and said the other councilors were the ones who deserved to be sanctioned.

“Really, I’d like to make a complaint against everyone here,” she said at the time.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Hicks has also been openly critical of Messenger, accusing her of not doing enough to enforce the ordinances, such as trespassing, open container, public camping and public littering that are often associated with the homeless population. Hicks routinely sends email blasts to city officials and the media, often accompanied by photos or video showing violations of the ordinances, and blaming Messenger for not doing anything about the situation.

Tensions between Hicks and Messenger reached a head during Messenger’s performance evaluation in June; the City Council conducted it behind closed doors and all records of that discussion are sealed.

But according to Hicks, the meeting took a turn when Messenger said since she was being evaluated, she also had some evaluations she wanted to share. That’s when Hicks said Messenger “ambushed” her.

“She was talking about all sorts of crazy stuff,” Hicks said in an interview following the meeting. “She threatened a lawsuit and I told her to go ahead and do that. It was pretty intense.

“She gets the moon and the stars from City Council and then she wants to sue us because I’ve been too critical of her job performance,“ Hicks said.

Two months later, Messenger notified Roseburg of her intent to sue the city on several grounds, including gender discrimination, retaliation and defamation.

In a letter to city officials, Messenger leveled accusations against Hicks, accusing her of starting the legal morass with “actionable” comments and social media posts.

In November, Hicks ran for re-election to defend her Ward 4, Position 2 seat; she was defeated by political newcomer Patrice Spiros, who won 57% of the vote. Hicks said she felt like she was not only running against Spiros but other members of the city council, including the mayor, who Hicks said was helping Spiros put her campaign signs out.

Hicks’ last city council meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14. Her last official day in office is Dec. 31.

Cotterell, who has been unsparing in his criticism of Hicks — at the Nov. 9 council meeting held via Zoom he had her audio cut off three times and threatened to have her removed from the discussion — is not shedding any tears at her departure.

“She is a vile, disgusting, rude person,” he said. “She’s not right. I’m 25 years a cop, and she’s not right.”

For her part, Hicks acknowledges her defeat stung, but said she’s glad to have a break after being involved in local politics for nearly a decade. She also said that this current embroilment is not any kind of parting shot, but rather an effort to end her tenure by doing what’s right.

“I consider this clearing out my desk, taking care of unfinished business,” Hicks said. “I think it’s important to a lot of people to find out if someone who is running your city is playing by the rules. If they’re not, how do you know they’re not doing it with other things too?”

Scott Carroll can be reached at scarroll@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204. Or follow him on Twitter @scottcarroll15.

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(24) comments

melrosereader

A city's charter is to a city as the US constitution is to the US.

In short, if the city's charter says that the city manager must live within the city limits, then the city manager must live within the city limits.

If people think that particular element of the city charter is outdated, then the solution id to amend the charter.

JWP74

So - Messenger lives within the UGB of the city but not within the city limits? Time to change the charter to include the UGB or grow the city limits to within the UGB. it's an antiquated rule to require people to live within the city limits when they live less than a mile outside of it - and definitely not the hill I would want my municipal career to die on, on the off chance that there "might be" something else Messenger or other city officials found a work-around for.

Mike

If a judge were to review these allegations, one of the first things he would look at was the INTENT of the charter requiring the city manager to live within the city limits. He would most likely find Mrs. Messenger and the previous city manager were violating the intent of the charter. He may also find the city council conspired to selectively not enforce the intent of the city charter put in place by a vote of the citizens.

Caila

Bottom line: Either live within the city limits or resign! Period, end of the story, no rebuttal required.

Caila

Bottom line: Either LIVE IN the city limits or STEP DOWN ! This is not going to be whitewashed or swept under the rug. LUDICROUS is the word that comes to mind when these yahoos think they should get away with ignoring policy while the rest of us have to. NO! Either live within the city limits or be gone!

CitizenJoe

pox/houses

EOM

Momos

Ms. Hicks had her own housing problems. Seeking publicity can be a double edged sword.

https://www.nrtoday.com/news/government/city/roseburg_government/judge-restores-possession-of-roseburg-city-councilor-ashley-hicks-residence-to-landlord-after-eviction-trial/article_fd3e2c7e-2847-5be5-8f97-cf107440c041.html

Mike

It appears most commentors are promoting carpet baggers. The reason cities and counties nationwide impose requirements that employees and elected officials live within the area they represent is to encourage behaviors and decisions that improve the area they represent. Officials living in the area they represent know they will suffer challenges from their neighbors and friends for unpopular behavior or decision not made in the best interest of the area they represent.

Ask any cop if you don't believe me. Law enforcement often lives far from the area they cover for a reason. They wish to avoid having people confront them about a past ticket while they are with their family at the grocery store or county fairs. The same situation applied when a County Commissioner is shopping at a local store without wearing a mask which, apparently happens often.

will be challenged afterwards by their friends and neighbors.

Buligajo

What people need to also consider is the fact that this charter was made years ago when in fact it was the best interest of the city to have their managers live within. Many city charters and rules have not evolved with the times. Currently most workers are working from their homes due to the virus. This is made possible by cell phones and high speed internet. Old days getting ahold of someone was harder due to party lines and no technology. They could send a police car over to your house when you resided within the city. My point is m, now days it doesn’t matter where you live, the City Manager could run the city from New York and do her job just fine. But... cities should get on board and change old or no longer relevant polices, so things like this don’t get stirred up. Ps she really has a yacht on Diamond Lake?

S

Hick's is clearly not turning the other cheek here and why should she? Her employee supported a divide on the Council and played politics and that's a major "no no," for a City Manager.

"Messenger notified Roseburg of her intent to sue the city on several grounds, including gender discrimination, retaliation and defamation . . . in a letter to city officials, Messenger leveled accusations against Hicks, accusing her of starting the legal morass with “actionable” comments and social media posts."

While the residency requirement is an antiquated rule and needs to be changed, both Colley and Messenger knowingly circumvented the requirement which clearly calls into question their integrity. What kind of message does it send when a municipal leader intentionally bends the rules to accommodate a wrongdoing?

The residency rule is antiquated and needs to be changed and until the City Council does it the right way Messenger needs to do the right thing and move into her Condo.

Mike

The Dictionary defines residency as "the fact of living in a place." Owning two homes and claiming residency in the one they ACTUALLY don't live in is fraud, no matter how respected Mrs. Messenger is and no matter what Ms. Hick’s past history is.

Not only that, it is hypocritical. I don’t see how this is any different than Roseburg’s City Council attempting to remove Ms. Hicks from the Council in 2019 when she was evicted from her Ward 2 home because there is a Charter requirement that Councilmembers must live in the Ward they represent.

The ONLY difference as I see it is Ms. Hicks often brings up and addresses issues the City Council would rather not talk about and Mrs. Messenger does what she is told.

President Trump ignores violations of the U.S. laws by his subordinates as long as they swear their loyalty to him and not the constitution. Likewise, Roseburg’s City Council ignores violations of their City Charter as long as the City Manager swears loyalty to the Mayor and Council. I don't see how that benefits the public who pays the salaries of all involved.

sectorstar

Funny how people are using this new tactic of trying to oust someone out because they didn't live in the area they're required too.

Lets not forget too how Heard initially got rejected for running for his position because he didn't live in the area he was required too. Than all the sudden he changes addresses and someone realized that it was the same address Boice lived. Boice actually admitted to it being true in the comments of an article about Heard in the opinions section last month or so when it was brought up, but immediately than used his bullying tactics if anyone proceeded to question it further. Theres questions about how ethical it was for those two to have done that when it didn't appear that there was any formal document on paper showing there was an agreement with Heard living/renting out Boice's basement. But as we know, very seldom does anyone in politics in douglas county gets in trouble for anything.

Umpquabob

Biden has six homes; where is his residency?

melrosereader

Biden's residency is the USA

Mike

It's where his U.S. constitutional charter or municipal code says it is. Let me know if you have any more questions that are difficult for you.

smedleyb

That is a lie Bob. As a typical right winger you pick up the BS spewed on your right wing web sites and are too lazy to fact check.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/10/22/fact-check-joe-biden-owns-2-homes-pictured-viral-meme/3720570001/

Mike

[thumbup]

smedleyb

This just in from the Skarlatos campaign;

Nikki Messenger lives on a yacht on Diamond Lake!!!

melrosereader

[smile]

mworden

If Ashley Hicks cared about ethics she's look at her own behavior first. Nikki Messenger is an extremely competent person, an engineer, who knows how to do stuff. Ashley only knows how to flap her mouth. Nikki's competence must drive poor Ashley around the bend. Many people own two homes. There's nothing hinky about it.

Mike

I'm curious. What exactly has Ms. Hicks done that is unethical?

mworden

Ethics are the moral principles that govern a person's behavior. She blamed the death of a homeless man on his newly grieving family. Low!

She purposely riled up a bunch of seniors, some as old as their 80s and 90s, by suggesting in vague terms that the city had a plan to put a homeless camp next to a senior citizen mobile home park. There was no plan. She was trying to make a point. What kind of unethical dips**t uses lower income elders, some of our most vulnerable citizens, to make the point that no one wants a homeless camp in their neighborhood?

If she wanted to pull a prank worthy of Saul Alinsky she could have suggested the city had a plan to put tiny houses for the homeless in Laurelwood Park, but, noooooo, too many lawyers live there. So she chose vulnerable people, many in poor health, to make her little point. Unethical!

Let me make a comparison, Mike. I often disagree with the harshness of your opinions (not your facts) but I don't go after you because you're aiming your harsh opinions at powerful officials, people who have the resources and personal wherewithal to take care of themselves and who should be doing what they can to protect their communities from covid. If you started going after powerless minimum wage part-time clerks at the courthouse with the same intensity that you go after the commissioners, I'd be all over your case. You have a sense of proportion. Ashley went after not only the vulnerable, but the completely innocent.* Those seniors didn't have a dog in her fight. She used them to make her point anyway. That's what I call unethical.

*related note -- you never accused a grade school student and their family of anything, despite what critics have said. I even went back and read you posts to make sure. You didn't.

Mike

I agree with you and thank you for educating me.

I often find your comments indicate you are a genuinely nice person who gives most people the benefit of the doubt no matter how big or small they are. That's why I asked the question. Personally, I believe a person is ethical and has moral principles if they tell the truth, even if what they say may not be nice.

I'm Here to Fact-check Mike

I'll leave this here ...

Mike Sep 27, 2020 11:22pm

Think this through. The positive test results from an East Primary School student was received today. That means the student was tested at least 1 – 2 weeks ago, meaning the student and their possibly infected family have been circulating at school and in the community for the last 1 – 2 weeks, possibly infecting many other children and their families.

According to the article, the child who tested positive and that family are being quarantined. None of the other children or family members who have been in direct contact with the infected child are being isolated, tested or quarantined. At least until they start showing symptoms. Meaning they may have infected several other people by that time.

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