Former parks employee Harold Ross Straub said he never stole parks equipment and that he took city of Ashland gas as compensation for use of his personal truck at work.

Former parks employee Harold Ross Straub said he never stole parks equipment and that he took city of Ashland gas as compensation for use of his personal truck at work.

In an interview with the Daily Tidings, Straub said borrowing equipment has been a longtime practice at the Ashland Parks Department.

"All employees, counting supervisors, have always borrowed tools," he said.

Straub said when Parks Director Don Robertson took over the department in 2004, Robertson sent out a memo to employees that they could no longer borrow larger tools.

Straub said he thought that meant employees could not borrow large, motorized equipment.

Robertson said there has been a written policy since 1999 that clearly states that no parks items are to be borrowed, taken home or used in a personal way.

The policy is posted in an employee break room at the Oak Knoll Golf Course, where Straub often worked, Robertson said.

If any employee asked to borrow an item, which rarely happened, Robertson said he would tell him borrowing is not allowed.

Other employees confirmed they have seen the posted written policy banning borrowing.

Sources familiar with parks operations said Straub's claim that he was borrowing tools is not credible, especially since some of the items recovered by police during a Nov. 19 search of Straub's home were consumables, such as fertilizer.

Former head gardener Donn Todt, who retired in 2009 after 19 years, said years ago, when the department was small, employees did borrow equipment.

But about 10 years ago, then-Parks Director Ken Mickelsen ended the practice, Todt said.

"Things would turn up missing. Ken put the law down that there was to be absolutely no borrowing of tools," Todt recalled. "Ken said, 'We've had too much stuff go missing.'"

Todt said that Parks Superintendent Steve Gies enforced the borrowing ban strictly. Todt said a parks employee got in trouble for using a wheelbarrow, and one worker was fired for taking a parks truck to the dump.

Todt said he doesn't remember any memo coming out when Robertson first became director stating that employees could borrow smaller equipment.

Straub confirmed reports that he did landscaping work on the side, such as cutting trees and creating planters for Ashland residents.

Robertson said employees are allowed to have second jobs, but that they are not allowed to use any parks equipment outside work.

Straub said he thought it was fair to borrow parks tools since he brought his own personal tools to use at his parks department job.

"I've used my personal stuff to help the parks department and to make the town look better," Straub said.

Straub said he took a parks ladder to hang Christmas lights and a wheelbarrow for a fence project.

Straub said it was fair to take city of Ashland gas as compensation for personal use of his truck on the job.

"I think a little gas for compensation isn't too much to ask," Straub said.

"I've been at the pumps before. Why are they reprimanding me now?"

Based on gas logs, police said in a search warrant affidavit they believed Straub had stolen at least $1,000 in gas during the previous six months.

Straub said that some employees would meddle in other employees' business, such as questioning why an employee was leaving early without knowing that the person had to work on Saturday.

He said there was no department protocol for checking out tools.

Robertson said the department is reviewing its policies on the use of tools such as shovels. Those were readily available for employees to use in order to encourage efficiency.

Other items, such as chain saws, were kept locked up, he said.

Robertson said if Straub were using his personal vehicle at work, he should have filled out a request for mileage reimbursement — which is 50 cents per mile — rather than taking gas.

Robertson said he strongly discourages all employees from using their personal vehicles at work because their personal insurance may not cover a work-related accident.

Robertson said he uses his own personal vehicle for work, with the approval of the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission.

Some of the problems in the department amount to pilferage, while other alleged activities could be felonies, he said.

Robertson said he is aware that problems may have been occurring for many years.

"Ross (Straub) is a 20-year employee. I can't tell you when he started allegedly stealing. Was it on his first day? Was it 10 years in? I think it's been going on awhile," Robertson said. "I think he got brazen."

Robertson said parks officials are committed to rooting out problems in the department.

"We won't stop investigating until we know. We won't stop investigating until we are 100 percent certain," Robertson said. "The vast majority of our staff are devoted employees."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.