Deb West's Bid For Interim Mayor Shutdown
By Brad Smith
GOLD HILL, Ore. -- Mayor pro tem Brad Studebaker and the city council addressed a few "housekeeping issues" during their Aug. 3 meeting, city manager/recorder Jessica Simpson said.
As with the previous meetings held since the Covid-19 pandemic started earlier this year, the meeting was webcast via the city's YouTube channel. Councilors Janet Wilson, Melia Biedscheid, Bill Rigney and Danielle Hinkley were present at the meeting -- councilor Ron Palmer wasn't present but Wilson had his proxy votes.
The matter of the municipal court came up. For nearly two years, Gold Hill residents have wanted the municipal court brought back. When Harry Staven was city manager, he reportedly made the court and looking for a judge a priority.
After Staven's departure -- it turned out he had a long history of being fired after allegations of misconduct and aggressive behavior aimed at city employees -- Simpson stepped up and finally found a judge: Local attorney Jennifer Zammetti was sworn in a few weeks ago. The city's new accounting software, Simpson said, would help the court with assessing fines and the like.
However, there was a snag, she said.
"Our municipal code book is very out of date," Simpson said. "People want the court to enforce numerous violations and levy fines. Well, as it's written now, our codes won't allow that. When someone started this process, they didn't do the proper research. This should have been taken care in the beginning."
Studebaker asked if they had any options.
"I think I can speak with (Zammetti) and we can start updating the codes," Simpson said. "I think we should keep the court in place and once we have the code book updated, we'll be good to go."
Several weeks ago, Pete Newport stepped down as mayor, and Studebaker has stepped in as mayor pro tem. A notice did go out for citizens to apply as interim mayor -- and only one person applied.
Over the years, West has served on a number of committees and on the city council. She was a councilor until last year after she stepped down due to family issues. Her history with Gold Hill's politics is interesting, to say the least.
During the Monday meeting, West addressed Studebaker and the councilors, making her pitch to be the interim mayor. She listed her past experiences as a councilor and committee member, as well as answering questions from the councilors. Wilson was concerned about West's conduct in the past.
"She's left in the middle of meetings and been absent without notice a few times," she said. "I have to wonder about her commitment to the city."
West explained that due to family medical issues, that was why she was absent or under emotional duress. However, that was now different.
Studebaker was more direct.
"My concern is that (West) shows up here and wants this chair. She doesn't know what's going on and not up to speed on things," he said. "We can't afford that. We've got too much going on at the moment. I think that we can manage from here on."
Hinkley said she was concerned about no one filling Studebaker's chair with him being interim mayor.
"People voted you to represent them," she said. "With you not there. they don't have a voice."
Both Simpson and Studebaker said the seat can be filled.
"We've done it before and it's not a problem," Simpson said.
Biedscheid asked if Studebaker wanted to remain interim mayor until a new one is sworn in January 2021.
"Yes," he said.
Biedscheid made the motion to keep Studebaker as interim mayor and Rigney seconded it. She and Hinkley voted "no" while Rigney, Wilson and Palmer -- by proxy -- voted "yes."
An anonymous source said the city "dodged a bullet."
"West was a very nice person when she first moved here years ago," they said. "That all changed after she started working with them."
Them. That's what some in Gold Hill call the "unholy trio" of Christine Alford, Donna Silva and Chris Stanley. Alford has appeared in council chambers and verbally assaulted anyone who opposed her. She runs a Facebook group, where she makes more libelous comments and even outright lies, some Gold Hill citizens say.
When Rick Hohnbaum was city manager a few years ago, Stanley and Silva served on the council. They both used their private emails rather than official councilor email accounts -- they felt Hohnbaum might spy on them.
Which was interesting, since both Stanley and Silva made an effort of tracking Hohnbaum's movements and where he had lunch. They also accused him of holding unauthorized meetings.
In late 2014, West and former city recorder Mary Goddard accused Hohnbaum of harassment and inappropriate behavior. During the investigation, Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) Community Development Coordinator Molly Bradley was asked several questions. Her answers went directly against the narrative that Alford pushed for on social media. Irate, Alford went on her group's page and called Bradley "a rat" and made other negative comments about her.
"And, what did Deb and those others do? Nothing. Not a goddamned fucking thing," the source said. "Christine got really nasty and said some terrible things about Molly. Deb never called her out. No one did."
The source said they were glad about the council's vote.
"Gold Hill is on track, for the first time in years," the source said. "(Stanley) ran the city into the ground and we're recovering from that. We don't need Deb in City Hall. I think she's too much of a hypocrite: Look at how she treated Mike Bollweg (Bollweg's company, Southern Oregon Water Technology, oversees the city's water treatment plant). That plant was a fucking mess because of council mismanagement and ignoring gross incompetence from the employees at the time.
"Hohnbaum did the right thing by bringing in Mike. He's done a great job there. But, Deb has it out for him. You can hear that condescending tone in her voice whenever she talks to him. Deb -- along with Alford, Stanley and Silva -- have an agenda: They don't want the city to get better, they want to keep it down in the dumps and are opposed to any change. We don't need that now."
The source went even further.
"They do have a ally on the council. We know who it is. That mole, that's what I call them, is working with those four, they're just as nasty and condescending as the others. The city, again, is on the right track. Deb, this ally of theirs -- they will undo all that good work."
Gold Hill does have a long, sordid history of bad politics. Some will point the finger at Alford, Stanley, Silva and even West as the source of the problem.
Maybe they're right.
In the meantime, Simpson has proven herself to be more than capable of running the city -- and the council is doing its best to make their community a better place.
Gold Hill, after all this time, is finally on the right track.
Correction: Councilor Janet Wilson made the motion regarding Studebaker. The YouTube feed was buffering at the time, hence the confusion.