The former manager of the Ashland Senior Center has filed a tort claim notice with the city alleging wrongful dismissal, claiming she was ousted because she questioned the Parks and Recreation Commission's effort to reorganize the center.
Christine “Chris” Dodson sent a four-page notice to the city Jan. 5 alleging she was deemed a “dissension” by parks commissioners and that they used the center's reorganization as an excuse to get her out. The Daily Tidings obtained a copy of the notice Friday.
Dodson was the senior center manager for 10 years until the Parks and Recreation Commission dismissed her in August 2017. A group of community members who support Dodson formed a campaign to recall three of the commissioners and has since been filling city meetings in protest.
City Attorney David Lohman said the city won’t respond to Dodson’s notice because of impending litigation, but he said the details in the claim are “misleading as best.”
“(They) went through a lot of trouble to lay out a whole lot of details,” Lohman said. “It’s very unusual for a notice to even become public since it’s in such an early stage of a lawsuit.”
The notice alleged the conflict began in a senior center subcommittee meeting on Jan. 24, 2017.
According to the meeting minutes, Commissioners Mike Gardiner and Jim Lewis and parks department Director Michael Black expressed dismay when they found out Dodson and the senior center advisory board had intended to ask the city to transfer the senior center out of the parks department without notifying the immediate manager or the commission.
Dodson and then advisory board member David Chapman responded the board hadn't yet taken any action on the idea. Gardiner said the decision was not up to Dodson nor the advisory board, the minutes read.
Dodson alleges in the tort claim notice her input was disregarded from that point forward, and she ended up being dismissed eight months later despite having no performance issue.
The notice names Commissioner Rick Landt, Gardiner and Black. It alleges Landt called her “the dissension” in encouraging Black to dismiss her and that Gardiner violated public meeting rules by “interrogating” Dodson about the intend to transfer instead of following the meeting’s agenda.
Both Landt and Gardiner, as well as Lewis, are targets in the recall effort, facilitated by Ashland Support Our Seniors group. Landt and Gardiner said they were not aware of the allegation made in the tort claim notice until the Tidings contacted them Friday.
Landt said via email that his quote in the notice was taken out of context.
“There is more to this than my out of context quote but I am limited by the impending litigation,” he wrote. “What I will say is that I sent the quoted email two weeks after Park Commissioners voted for the layoffs and after Chris Dodson had been formally notified of the layoff."
Landt sent the Tidings a copy of his email that contains the quote, dated Aug. 28. The commission voted to approve the reorganization, including Dodson’s dismissal, on Aug. 9, according to meeting minutes (dates have been corrected from previous version).
“When are the layoffs for the Senior Center happening? It seems like the sooner the better to get the dissension out of the picture,” the message sent to Black said.
Gardiner said he has no comment regarding the allegation.
“I knew what would be in there,” he said. “It’s not important for me to react immediately on what she is saying. She can say whatever she wants … this is from her perspective.”
Also named in the notice is Black, whom Dodson claims facilitated her dismissal to “please the Commissioners.” The notice alleges that Black’s decision to reorganize the senior center, including moving the center to The Grove and cutting back on operating hours and services, was made last-minute and “was not supported by logic or substance,” adding that those proposed changes have been reversed except for Dodson’s dismissal.
Black said “there’s a lot to the situation,” but he’s not in the position to comment further due to impending litigation. He added that the commission will be briefed about the notice next week.
The Parks and Recreation Commission will meet at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 22, to potentially vote on the first recommendations from the ad hoc senior center committee formed to help the commission reshape the center’s future. Those recommendations include separating the senior center from the recreation department and defining new duties for a new manager.
Dodson’s attorney, Christopher Lundberg, didn’t immediately respond to further inquiries about whether or when Dodson will file the lawsuit.
— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.