To say things have been ‘a bit strained’ between Newport City Manager Jim Voetberg and certain members of the city council would be putting it mildly. Two years of criticism coming from city-wide employee and city councilor surveys about Voetberg’s job performance bubbled over Monday night when Voetberg was challenged by councilors Dean Sawyer and Dick Beemer over a couple of sensitive issues.
The first one centered around Newport’s efforts to lure the Erickson Airplane Museum from Tillamook to Newport. Newport officials heard that Erickson was looking to move from its current location since the old blimp hanger they are currently using is becoming quite old. Newport soon after began working with Erickson to possibly relocate them to the northwest side of the Newport Airport. The city even paid to have a large part of the NOAA dredge piles moved to fill-in a low lying area of the airport to accommodate a site for Erickson. City councilors say a recent meeting between city officials and Erickson involved very substantial dialog and impressive site plans that could be applied to the Newport Airport site.
Monday night during the council meeting Voetberg was asked how things were going with the Erickson negotiations. Voetberg replied in so many words, ‘not so well.’ Councilor Sawyer, who had attended the meeting held at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in which all the plans were laid out, was visibly startled and asked, “Why didn’t you tell us that things were not moving forward? You should have kept the council in the loop. Maybe we could have done something.” A very angry Councilor Dick Beemer chimed in with a very loud booming voice, “For the record, this is NOT ACCEPTABLE.” Mayor Mark McConnell and other councilors expressed their concern that the city should be ready to offer other incentives to land the museum for Newport but that the council needs to know where things stand in order to offer them.
Another difficult moment erupted when Voetberg was asked whether before he flew to Alaska to apply for another job, did he make a formal designation of who would act as city manager in his absence (which is typically the public works or finance director). Voetberg reportedly told his staff he would be gone a few days, but said nothing about where he was going or why.
Councilor Sawyer asked Voetberg why he didn’t designate an acting city manager before leaving, Voetberg replied that he couldn’t remember whether he did or not. He apologized for not remembering but added he would make sure that the next time it’s required that he be out of the area that he would not forget to designate an acting city manager. As with the Erickson issue, the acting city manager snafu simply died abruptly, and the council moved on down the agenda.