Two Ontario city councilors voice surprise over recent news city manager is finalist for top job in Keizer

Ontario City Manager Adam Brown (right) talks during a city council meeting while former City attorney Larry Sullivan looks on. Brown is one of three finalists for the city manager job in Keizer. (The Enterprise/FILE).

ONTARIO – Ontario City Manager Adam Brown is a candidate for the top administrative job in Keizer came as a surprise to at least two city council members.

For Councilor Michael Braden, though, it was not a shock.

“I knew he was looking,” said Braden.

Brown is one of three candidates in the running for Keizer’s city manager position. He’s served as the city manager in Ontario for more than five years.

Keizer city officials announced the short list last Wednesday, Feb. 2. In addition to Brown, the finalists are are Eileen Stein, who has been city manager of West Linn, Mt. Angel and Sisters, and Tim Wood, Keizer’s finance director for the past six years.

Keizer has about 40,000 people, compared to 11,000 in Ontario.

Brown said last week he is scheduled to interview with Keizer officials next week. And he said nothing is firm.

“I am just considering it. It will be a heavy decision if the opportunity presents itself,” said Brown.

Braden said he believes Brown’s job search can be traced back to a series of internal city incidents in 2021. Braden said those were triggered by Councilor Ken Hart and Mayor Riley Hill and centered on the elected leaders’ oversight of city employees.

 “Ken and Riley were giving a bad time to a lot of the (city) staff. There was staff turnover and it greatly affected Adam because he works to build a family environment for his staff at city hall,” said Braden.

For a time, Braden said, the city hall environment was toxic.

“When we are not encouraging from the dais it has an effect on staff. It was just a negativity from the council but I do think it has gotten better the past two months,” said Braden.

Reached for comment Friday, Hart said Braden’s views were “his opinion.”

Hart and Hill both said they were surprised to learn Brown was looking to change jobs.

“He’s never expressed to me that he is unhappy,” said Hill.

Hill also said it “was not unusual” for someone like Brown to be looking for opportunities after five years as city manager.

“You can’t blame a guy who wants to improve themselves. It is the way life goes,” said Hill.

Hart said Brown is “a talented guy” and that “It sounds like an awesome opportunity if he gets tapped. I don’t begrudge him at all.”

Brown and city hall were at the epicenter of controversy during the past 18 months.

In January 2021, Hill sued the city in an effort to overturn a nuisance finding that resulted in a $500 penalty for his company, Eldorado Investments, Inc.

In an August ruling, Malheur County Circuit Court Judge Lung Hung found the city violated its own procedures regarding the case and vacated the fine. The case cost the city more than $8,000 in legal fees.

In May, former Ontario Councilor Marty Justus sent a cease-and-desist letter to then-council President Freddy Rodriguez and Hill regarding an assertion that the two took claims of sexual abuse of minors against him to the Ontario Police.

Justus put the city on notice he could sue for a violation of his civil rights that could cost the city $1 million.

The notice by Justus was only the most recent of a long political saga at city hall that involved Hill, Rodriguez and Justus.

Rodriguez, recalled from office in June, castigated Justus as a child molester and urged police to investigate him in the fall of 2020. When Rodriguez concluded Ontario police were not doing their duty, he sought intervention from the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office, according to interviews and police records.

Hill also relayed to police hearsay about Justice and sought to be treated as an anonymous source.

Police later determined there was no evidence against Justus.

Also last year, the city council initiated an effort to amend the city charter, the document that governs how the city is run, by transferring power to hire department heads from the city manager to the council. The effort seemed to be spearheaded by Hill.

The city also endured a series of departures of key personnel in 2021. Police Chief Steve Romero – who Brown hired – resigned and left in October.

Romero said he decided to depart for several reasons, including job opportunities but also cited the political climate played role in his decision.

Erick Hartley, Ontario Municipal Airport manager, Peter Hall, city human resources manager and IT tech Ken Monson all left their city jobs last year.

Brown said at the time that a “multitude of factors” prompted the resignations but also pointed to the recent political controversies as a possible reason.

Brown said last week that 2021 was “a hard year.”

“I can’t say there is any one thing that made me start to look for another job. It’s not like I have 20 applications out there. If the right thing comes up, I will consider it,” said Brown.

Brown said he believes the environment at city hall has improved.

“I think things are better. I think communication has improved,” said Brown.

Brown said in June he will mark his sixth year in Ontario.

“I think you have to ask yourself if you are still motivated. Sometimes just looking and considering if what you have is better than what you could have is motivational too,” said Brown.

He said he remained “excited about the projects we are doing here.”

Brown said when he came to Ontario he wanted to “be the guy that stayed.”

“It’s a big reset when you have a change and I am sick of moving. But at the same time, I don’t want to pass up opportunities or if there is a place better for my family,” said Brown.

Hill and Hart both said they hope Brown stays.

However, Hill said Brown’s departure might be inevitable.

“He has obviously expressed a desire to move on up the ladder and he will probably continue to do that and we have to recognize that and plan on it,” said Hill.

Hart called Brown “a professional.”

“I respect the heck out of him,” said Hart.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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