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Joseph Mayor Belinda Buswell, left, reads the Oregon Revised Statutes that specify what a public body may do in executive session prior to entering such a session Thursday, June 3, 2021. Councilwoman Kathy Bingham listens at right.

JOSEPH — The can got kicked down the road again but not with as much force as might have been expected, Thursday, June 3, as the Joseph City Council heard Pro-Tem Administrator/Recorder Brock Eckstein say he has no documented claims of harassment by council members.

This came in open session after an executive session which he explained to the approximately 40 residents in the audience on behalf of the council.

“I know a lot of you are frustrated over potential allegations of harassment from council members to city staff,” Eckstein said. “I can assure you these are being handled in the proper way.”

He explained that the “proper way” means that people given due process when accused. He said when a written complaint — not just hearsay — is filed against anybody, the defendant is allowed two weeks to respond.

“The council receives the same correspondence. They’ll get two weeks to think about it,” Eckstein said. “Once that two weeks has passed, both parties will get 15 minutes in executive session with the council to pitch their side, whether they’re the accuser or the defendant. Once both of those 15-minute sessions expire, they’ll each get 5 minutes rebuttal and then they’ll both be excused and the council will come to a consensus and their official conclusion must be done in open session.”

He said the process might not satisfy all, but it’s “the right and legal way to do it.”

He added that “I don’t have any written accusations against a councilor for harassment or anything. But once I receive that correspondence and open it, that councilor and the rest of the council will be presented with that information.”

At present, it’s all hearsay, he said.

“Right now, all of this harassment stuff is ‘he-said, she-said’ stuff. That’s not how we operate; that’s not how anyone should operate,” he said. “It’s got to be a written complaint from a citizen, a councilor or an employee. As of right now, I haven’t received any of that.”

In addressing the audience, he empathized with those feeling frustrated.

“I realize some of you are feeling that frustration because nothing’s happening,” Eckstein said. “Well, no one’s stepping forward, to be quite honest.”

The entire harassment issue arose when Parks Director Dennis Welch made such allegations that led to his having to take sick time off from March to May. That was followed April 1 by former Administrator/Recorder Larry Braden alerting the council of harassment violations during a council meeting and then he submitted his resignation April 16 for those same reasons.

Since then, Welch has returned to work after talking with Eckstein. Braden has declined to specify the type of harassment or from whom.

But it appears disputes are occurring among city staff, Eckstein said.

“There have been allegations at the city level among city staff and those are being handled in the exact same way I just explained,” he said. “So once those time frames have expired, a decision will be made and you’ll know what that decision is.”

He asked for the citizenry’s indulgence.

“I would just ask you to exercise patience as we make sure that everybody — the accuser and the defendants in any case — are given their fair chance to speak and respond to issues,” Eckstein said. “I know if you were in that situation, I guarantee you’d want the same thing, too.”

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