The Roseburg City Council meeting was nearing an end after stretching for more than three hours Monday night when Councilor Brian Prawitz clearly had enough. During his closing comments he turned to Councilor Ashley Hicks and let loose.
“You just went totally rogue and I am angry,” Prawitz said. “I, at the very least, am glad to hear you say the words ‘I’m sorry.’ But I believe this was a censurable move. You stepped out of bounds.”
What set Prawitz and others on the City Council off started with an online spat Hicks had with residents of the Shadow Ranch Mobile Home Park, a senior community located just north of the Roseburg Regional Airport.
Hicks, who was elected in 2016, has continuously advocated to use city-owned property on General Avenue — across from the mobile-home park — as a shelter.
The dispute spilled into the council chambers Monday night when about a dozen Shadow Ranch residents showed up at the meeting. About half spoke at the meeting, each giving Hicks an earful.
One after another they chastised Hicks’ plan for the homeless shelter. Putting such a shelter there would bring crime and drug problems into their neighborhood and hurt the value of their homes, they said. One speaker said there may be guns in the nearby Army National Guard building that could get into the hands of the homeless. Another worried residents at a nearby center for dementia patients would also be in jeopardy.
“It’s disrespectful to do this to us. Disrespectful,” one speaker said.
As one elderly woman gingerly made her way to the meeting, someone in the audience said, “Imagine if she’s confronted by some of these homeless. What could she do?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll protect her,” a man replied.
Hicks remained silent as each resident spoke.
Mayor Larry Rich tried to calm the group, saying a homeless shelter in that area was not something the council was even considering.
“That is not something the council has discussed,” Rich said. “There is no plan to put a homeless shelter there.”
When Hicks finally spoke she appeared contrite, thanking the Shadow Ranch residents for coming.
“I think all your concerns are valid,” Hicks said. She went on to say that she lives in Southeast Roseburg, near the Roseburg Rescue Mission, which provides myriad services for the homeless.
“The Rescue Mission is responsible for removing thousands of people from homelessness,” Hicks said. “If the city wants to move forward with something like that, it’ll be successful because the people who will be there want to be there.
“Homelessness is not going anywhere, so at some point we’re going to have to deal with it.”
After her comments, the discussion moved on to other matters before the council and the residents from Shadow Ranch left. But that wasn’t the end of it.
During closing comments, Prawitz brought the matter up again. He and other city council members had been inundated with calls and emails from concerned residents of Shadow Ranch, which was a “waste of energy and brain cells” for everyone involved, he said.
“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.”
Hicks did not back down.
“The folks who came here tonight are not city residents, these are not my constituents,” she said, which caused Prawitz to chuckle.
“Why are you laughing?” Hicks asked.
“Because that’s ridiculous,” Prawitz shot back.
Rich intervened, telling Hicks that he hoped when she posted something on Facebook like this she would make clear that it’s only her personal opinion and not that of the City Council.
“To sit here and not say you were sorry, this was not OK,” Rich said.
Rich said he believed the council had three options to discipline Hicks: Not allow her to speak at council meetings anymore, take away her committee chair, or lose her travel privileges.
“I’ve got to tell you, my feeling tonight is to pull the travel,” he said.
City Attorney Bruce Coalwell then stepped in and cautioned the council not to act in haste.
“I don’t really know that you’re going to have a discussion in the waning moments of the meeting here,” he said. “The appropriate step is to schedule an executive session to discuss this. This isn’t an issue that has to be decided tonight.”
Rich then told council members to let him know via email how they wanted to proceed with disciplining Hicks.
“If you’re interested in having an executive session, let me know,” he said.
Shortly thereafter he gaveled the meeting to a close.
Following the meeting, Hicks went to social media to vent her frustration with the City Council and accused them of infringing upon her first amendment rights.
“Me not going to conferences x’s the citizens out of representation. I don’t see any of the other councilors there participating and bringing back Information for our citizens benefit,” Hicks wrote. “This entire city knows this council has NOT took action on addressing homelessness.”
Hicks emphasized during the meeting, and later on Facebook, that she was serving her constituents in Southeast Roseburg, not the City Council or city staff.
“I stand up by speaking for the best interests of those within our city boundaries, not for county residents,” Hicks wrote on Facebook following the meeting.