The former Senior Center manager has demanded that two parks commissioners remove their statements in the recall ballot, saying they include “false and misleading” information about her dismissal.
Commissioners Rick Landt, Mike Gardiner and Jim Lewis are subjects of a March 13 recall election, which was launched after the parks commission unanimously voted to overhaul the Senior Center and dismiss its manager, Chris Dodson, in August 2017. Ballots have already been delivered in the vote-by-mail election.
The three commissioners refused to resign and submitted letters of justification on Feb. 7, in which Landt and Gardiner explained their decisions to dismiss Dodson and part-time staff at the center.
Dodson’s attorney Chris Lundberg sent the city a letter on Feb. 14 claiming the statements do “serious harm” to Dodson’s professional reputation and cause her to suffer “serious emotional distress.”
“...The Commissioners’ mean-spirited and relentless effort to injure Ms. Dodson is appalling,” Lundberg wrote. “The widespread support for the recall effort, and for Ms. Dodson generally, speaks volumes to her performance and value, which is why you and the Commissioners feel so compelled to spread lies about her.”
In his letter of justification, Gardiner stated that Dodson “authored her own misfortune by failing to accept the accountability and responsibilities that belong to that management position.”
Landt wrote that the reorganization stemmed from the program’s “irregularities that create liabilities” for the city and its taxpayers. He wrote that staff were providing non-professional financial and estate planning advice, counting time serving nonprofits as paid staff time, allowing volunteers to work at the center without background checks and failing to perform necessary record keeping.
Lundberg said that Gardiner’s statement implies that Dodson “not only had performance issues but that her alleged performance issues were sufficiently egregious to justify her termination.”
“There is no truth in that statement — and the city knows, or should know, it,” Lundberg states, adding that Dodson performed her job with “great responsibility and accountability.”
Lundberg also claimed that Landt’s statements are “false or gross misrepresentations of the truth."
Reached by phone Tuesday, Gardiner said he has no response to the claims about his statements due to potential litigation, but he stood by his statements.
“We were asked to justify our actions, so that’s what we did,” he said.
Parks Director Michael Black said on Feb. 1 — seven months after Dodson’s dismissal — that the Senior Center was under review because staff at the time was operating with little oversight or approval from the city and was resistant to change when the commission tried to improve the program.
Dodson has been praised by Senior Center’s patrons in their testimonies protesting the August reorganization. They described her as caring and professional and said she ran a successful and efficient program.
A 2016 performance audit stated that the center had been a positive feature for the parks department by providing a number of social services, but could increase participation by adding more recreational activities. It recommended forming an in-house task force to explore opportunities to grow membership. The audit didn’t mention Dodson’s specific performance.
In the two-page letter, Dodson requests for the removal of the letters of justification, an assurance from the city that the claims won't be republished and a letter of correction. It also asked the city to provide a detailed description and supporting documentation for the commissioners’ statements if the commissioners refuse to remove the letters.
City Attorney David Lohman acknowledged that the letter was sent to the city. He said the city wouldn’t respond, because it was part of a preliminary tort claim that can be a precursor to a lawsuit but in and of itself does not require a reply. He said any response by the city could lead to more action by Dodson.
Dodson worked at the Senior Center for 10 years until the parks commission voted to reorganize the program and dismiss her in August 2017. Dodson sent the tort notice claim alleging she was wrongfully dismissed in January, the Tidings reported.
In the Feb. 14 letter to the city, Lundberg wrote that Dodson would file a lawsuit “to compensate her for the harm” if the city and the commission choose to not act upon her requests. As of Tuesday, Dodson hasn’t filed a lawsuit or demanded compensation.
The commissioners will continue to campaign to retain their seats until voting ends on March 13. After the election was scheduled, supporters for the commissioners started to speak out at City Council and Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, calling the recall election "inappropriate" and "a waste of time and energy." At least two city councilors and the mayor have publicly endorsed the commissioners.
The reorganization of the Senior Center continues to move forward as an ad hoc committee is set to complete its list of recommendation in March, including a recommendation to change the manager position to a superintendent and increase the center's annual personnel budget by at least $100,000.
— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.