There’s a persistent rift at the City of Roseburg surrounding City Councilor Ashley Hicks.
At the Jan. 14 city council meeting, Hicks pressed Mayor Larry Rich to state on the record why he decided not appoint her chair of any city commissions — as mayor, Rich has sole authority to do so.
Rich said he made the decision because Hicks consistently acts disrespectfully to city officials.
The positive mood created after Roseburg Mayor Larry Rich’s State of the City address quickl…
Email records requested by Hicks and The New-Review show current and former city officials and Roseburg residents have complained to Rich about Hicks’ actions as a city councilor. Rich said he has also received complaints via phone from city commissioners who stated they would resign their positions if they had to continue working with Hicks. He declined to name who made those complaints. The phone calls are not part of public record.
After the Jan. 14 meeting, city councilors Brian Prawitz, Tom Ryan and Andrea Zielinski emailed Rich voicing support for the mayor’s decision to not appoint Hicks.
The rift illustrates many city officials’ distaste for Hicks’ often boisterous demeanor and her frequent criticisms of city government on Facebook. But Hicks’ supporters say they back her because she is willing to aggressively call attention to city issues such as the effects of camping in public.
The conflict was on display again at Monday’s council meeting.
Prawitz abruptly interrupted Hicks while she questioned Wayne Patterson, executive director of the Umpqua Economic Development Partnership, about whether the partnership’s activities have facilitated economic development in Roseburg.
Hicks challenged Patterson about the benefits of one of the partnership’s projects — trading cards for kids showing information about possible career paths.
The partnership receives city funds, and two Roseburg city officials, City Manager Lance Colley and City Council President Tom Ryan, are board members.
None of the $30,000 used for the trading card project came from the city, according to Patterson. He said it was funded by the Southwest Oregon Workforce Investment Board — a nonprofit that uses state and federal funds to invest in workforce development.
“Are these recyclable?” Hicks asked as she held up the packaging of the trading cards. “How are you able to track the success of this one project? Because this is a lot of garbage per student, per class. That’s 30 students per class and how many classes in each school. I mean, this is a lot of refuse, a lot of litter.”
Patterson thinks the project has been successful because a website the partnership created to supplement the trading cards has over 700 unique visits.
As Hicks continued to question Patterson for several minutes about the trading cards, other city councilors shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Shawn Clark, the partnership’s operations manager, looked at city staff and mouthed, “Wow.”
After other city councilors voiced support for the partnership’s work, Rich said it was time to move on from the subject. Hicks said she had one more “super quick” thing to add.
“There are 36 cards here and I counted five that have somebody of — five black people and one that might be questionable on whether or not he’s of a different ethnicity,” Hicks said.
Prawitz then interrupted Hicks and said to Patterson: “I would like to say what a great job you’ve done. Incredible vision, collaboration, leaders working together, cooperation from all kinds of entities producing amazing results and a vision for the future of Douglas County that is spectacular. Thank you for being here.”
Patterson said in an interview that Hicks’ line of questioning was a typical example of her being uninformed.
Rich said Hicks frequently questions people like she did Monday.
“She always has to have the last word,” Rich said of Hicks in an interview. He added that Hicks often unfairly criticizes city officials and others involved with city operations.
Rich said he has spoken with Hicks “many times” about complaints regarding her “rude” or “inappropriate” behavior.
While complaints via phone not part of public record, several emails to Rich that were requested by Hicks and The News-Review show complaints about her.
Betsy Cunningham and Tommy Smith, residents of Hicks’ Ward 4, and Kerry Atherton, a Roseburg Planning Commission member, complained in 2017 about Hicks’ efforts to remove a locked metal biohazard box in Micelli Park.
Bookended by police vehicles, the parking lot of Micelli Park in southeast Roseburg served a…
“We have worked for the last 12 months to get sharps containers placed in specific locations around downtown, and south-town,” Atherton wrote to Hicks, Rich, former Ward 4 City Councilor Steve Kaser and resident Ruth Smith in April 2017. “Now that we have support from the HIV Alliance of Eugene, and Dr. (Bob) Dannenhoffer of Public Health, you need to take us more seriously. Whatever your problem is with Ruth and Tom Smith, that should be kept private between the three of you.”
Cunningham and Smith started a petition that summer to remove Hicks from her position after homeless rights advocates and opponents of camping in public faced off at Micelli Park over efforts to clean up riverfront camps.
Residents of southeastern Roseburg have filed a petition to recall City Councilor Ashley Hic…
Other emails between Rich and Alyssa McConnel, who was director of the Downtown Roseburg Association at the time, detail a dispute between Hicks and McConnel from October 2017.
The dispute occurred when McConnell refused to give Hicks a ride back to her hotel in Oregon City after the Oregon Main Street Conference. McConnel told Hicks she would be embarrassed to give her a ride because her car was messy, according to Hicks. McConnell didn’t drive Hicks to the event.
“What seemed to be ‘no problem,’ turned into a big catastrophe of verbal slander to my colleagues the next day,” McConnel wrote to Rich and Kaser. “Ms. Hicks has a lot of passion, but the way she delivers her message and upholds her feelings in public eye is unacceptable.”
In another email, Rich said he advised City Councilor Alison Eggers that she “has the right to tell someone to stop speaking or ask staff to help in getting the police to remove someone from the meeting” after a dispute between Hicks, Eggers and other city staff at a Parks Commission meeting. Eggers chairs the Parks Commission.
On Monday, Hicks said in an interview that the complaints shown in the emails were “old news.” She isn’t surprised there aren’t more complaints in public record, she said. But she added she’s frustrated Rich referenced other complaints as the rationale for not appointing her to chair a city commission.
“All of us at our elected official training classes that the League (of Oregon Cities) does, we’re told not to communicate in email,” Hicks said. “Everything should be done over the phone.” That’s to prevent communications from becoming public record, she said.
Rich’s decision to not appoint her to chair a city commission is unfounded, Hicks said.
She said her often aggressive demeanor is a response to what she sees as inaction by the rest of the city on issues she’s concerned with such as the effects of camping in public.
“The truth is that we’re going to reach our goals if we can think about positive ways to get there instead of trying to think of all the ways that we’re not,” Hicks said. “It’s a mindset. And if I have to piss people off to try to shake their mindset then dammit it’s going to be worth it.”
Hicks’ supporters want her to have that mindset.
“I have found Ashley Hicks easy to work with and refreshingly direct,” said Roseburg resident Ken Ferguson in a Jan. 15 email to Rich. The effects of people camping in public have gone unaddressed on Rich’s watch for decades, Ferguson said in an interview with The News-Review. He added that Hicks possesses an energy that he doesn’t see anywhere else in the city.
Rich told The News-Review the city welcomes any ideas, including Hicks’, about how to solve such issues. He said Hicks’ energy is valuable, but solutions require teamwork, and Hicks continues to alienate city officials.
“If you want to get people to join in on what you feel is important, you don’t rip them and attack them and then say, ‘By the way I want you to support my idea,’” Rich said. “You work with them and you say, ‘Here’s what I believe in, can you support this too?’”