The Roseburg City Council tabled a resolution to fund hiring a city communications specialist after an employees union representative criticized the proposal at the regular meeting Monday.

City officials have said the position is necessary to improve communications and outreach to the public.

Jeffery Brown, an assistant business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 659, said the creation of the position shows the city is not meeting its obligations to current city employees.

He said the union’s collective bargaining agreement permits a renegotiation of wages if the city’s financial standing improves, and the position would suggest financial improvement. The union sent a request to reopen negotiations in February based on the city’s annual financial report and budget committee minutes, Brown said, but the city hasn’t agreed to renegotiate despite the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

“To be blunt, these positions flatly contradict each other,” Brown said. “If the city truly has improved its financial position, the (IBEW) representative employees ask that you table the creation of new and different positions and first honor its commitment to the workers doing their part, here and now, to make Roseburg a city especially worth communicating about.”

He said the proposed $102,000 salary including benefits for the position is comparable to similar positions in cities such as Milwaukie and Oregon City. But he said Roseburg city officials stated wages for workers in those cities weren’t a fair comparison during negotiations, because Roseburg’s rural economy doesn’t match those of Portland-metro cities.

Roseburg Human Resources Director John VanWinkle said in an email Tuesday that city officials have not determined whether changes in the city’s financial position meet the criteria needed to reopen wage negotiations.

“The bar that needs to be met is a significant change in financial conditions,” VanWinkle said. “We’ve had two meetings with the IBEW group to discuss their proposal to reopen and have not agreed on whether that bar has been met.”

The union represents 54 non-fire/police department city employees. The current three-year agreement includes an annual 2% wage increase through 2019.

“We still believe this is an important position for the city moving forward,” said interim City Manager Nikki Messenger.

Mayor Larry Rich suggested that the City Council accept Brown’s request to table funding the position until councilors can review negotiation documents.

“To at least step back, be able to get that report and analyze it, and just see where it’s at, see if it’s accurate or not,” Rich said. “To be able to justify what we’re doing.”

Union employees at the city contacted Brown after the City Council discussed the new position last month, Brown said in an interview Tuesday. He added the creation of the position and increases in funding for operations such as the library, which opened under the city’s leadership in December, show significant financial improvements. In 2017, the city’s library budget was almost $28,000 compared to $429,000 in the recently adopted budget.

Brown said he doesn’t deny the city’s need for a communications specialist, but hopes if the city moves forward with the position, officials will agree to reopen negotiations.

“If they don’t agree to open up the contract, we will pursue our legal options,” Brown said. “But we really hope we don’t have to go there. We support the city, the work the city is doing, we just are at odds with the financial position.”

Max Egener can be reached at megener@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4217. Or follow him on Twitter @maxegener.

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City Reporter

Max Egener is the city reporter for The News-Review. He has a master's degree from the University of Oregon, and is an avid skier and backpacker.

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