Aurora Mayor Resigns Amid Personnel Complaints, Claims of Hostile Work Environment

The mayor of Aurora has resigned nine months into her first term, amid allegations by the city’s recorder that she harassed him while on paternity leave in August and had created “what could likely be considered a hostile work environment” over the past several years.

Aurora Mayor Kris Sallee resigned from office Sept. 11 in a terse, one sentence letter addressed “To All Concerned.”

“Due to the escalating lack of communication and cooperation with the city council and city staff, I do hereby resign my position as mayor of Aurora, effective immediately,” she wrote.

Sallee confirmed her decision later that day in a Facebook message, but declined to comment further. She had previously been elected to two terms on the council, and has served on a number of committees and in other volunteer roles for the city.

Recorder Scott Jorgensen, who is the city of Aurora’s highest ranking administrative employee, detailed his complaints against the mayor in a much lengthier letter to councilors, in which he also said he had begun the process of filing a formal complaint against Sallee with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

The central confrontation in Jorgensen’s complaint happened shortly after his daughter’s birth on Aug. 5.

It had been preceded by a series of emails in which the then-mayor asked about recent interactions he’d had with the city attorney and city planner. He’d responded that he hadn’t had any. He had been at the hospital.

They had only recently returned home when Sallee and he had a conversation by phone that soon turned heated.

“Mayor Sallee continued to badger me, to the point where my wife could hear it from the other room, even though this conversation was not on speakerphone,” Jorgensen wrote. “My wife walked over, grabbed the phone out of my hand and reminded Mayor Sallee that I was on leave, she was recovering from childbirth and that the mayor needed to let me be with my family.”

Jorgensen returned to work less than a week later, on Aug. 14. On Aug. 22, he claims Sallee staged another confrontation “under the guise of doing our regular update.” He says the mayor then told him the meeting would actually be a “performance evaluation” and asked him to sign a prepared statement in which he would admit he had failed to perform his duties.

“I asked her what the basis for this was,” Jorgensen wrote. “She mentioned the Aug. 8 telephone conversation, which led me to believe that this so-called ‘evaluation’ was direct retaliation for my wife reminding her that I was on leave.”

Jorgensen then left the meeting, saying he would not continue without another councilor present.

The remainder of Jorgensen’s letter details several other occasions that he felt demonstrated Sallee’s “inability to work constructively” with city staff. These include incidents involving Jorgensen’s predecessor, two public works superintendents and the city’s former contract deputy from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Mike Bell.

“This encounter is the latest in a series of incidents occurring at city hall throughout the duration of several years that directly involve Mayor Sallee, both in this role and her previous role as a city councilor,” Jorgensen wrote. “All of these, combined, have contributed to what could likely be considered a hostile work environment.”

Jorgensen believes the evidence demonstrates Sallee acting unilaterally and “beyond her authority,” and therefore may have been putting the city of Aurora at “legal risk.”

These more or less private concerns became public at city hall on Tuesday, after Jorgensen included his letter and several emails and other attachments supporting his claims in the packet for that night’s city council meeting.

The discussion, ostensibly, was about the need for a “personnel officer,” an HR rep who could serve as a point of contact, administrative support and liaison between staff and the city council — a role that the mayor had generally filled in the past.

In the absence of any funds designated for such an officer in the municipal budget, Councilor Mercedes Rhoden-Feely moved that Council President Tom Heitmanek be appointed to serve in the position. The motion was approved, over Sallee’s objections.

Sallee said she did not know Jorgensen’s letter would be included in the packet available to the public, and she felt it should not have been. She repeatedly suggested that the concerns be addressed in executive session (under Oregon law, discussions pertaining to potential litigation or personnel issues may be conducted behind closed doors), but Rhoden-Feely, an attorney by trade, said it should remain open because it concerned city policy.

Reached Thursday morning at Aurora City Hall, Jorgensen said the council has scheduled an emergency session for 7 p.m. that night, at which Sallee’s resignation will be accepted by the remaining councilors and the position will be posted as vacant. He expects that applications will be accepted and a replacement appointed to serve the remainder of her term.

He also gave a brief statement: “The city would like to thank Kris Sallee for her many years of service to the citizens of the community: as mayor, as city councilor and as a member of the planning commission and the budget committee.”

Finally, he said he does not plan to take further action on the BOLI complaint, feeling the issue has been resolved.

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