As Jim Voetberg prepared to leave, two airport employees filed complaints against three city councilors
No sooner had Jim Voetberg cleaned out his desk at City Hall that two Newport Airport employees filed scathing attacks on three of Voetberg’s former bosses: City Councilors Dick Beemer, Ralph Busby and Dean Sawyer.
Airport Operations Manager Lance Vanderbeck and Fixed Base Operator Terry Durham wrote in a formal complaint against the councilors that the councilors’ frequent presence at the airport created a “hostile work environment” for them. They listed a number of incidents and situations that they said made them fear for their jobs, partly due to city budget issues but also the fact that their loyalty to Voetberg did not sit well with the councilors. Both Vanderbeck and Durham stated in their complaint that they were both strong supporters of Voetberg.
It’s well established through both employee and city council evaluations of Voetberg that he was not a popular city manager and that many employees did not have confidence in him and did not believe Voetberg truly listened to their employment related concerns. Several City Council evaluations, with one or two councilor exceptions, chastised Voetberg for not being forthcoming with them on important city issues and that they were generally dissatisfied with his performance as city manager. Late in his tenure, the city council announced that they agreed to help Voetberg become a better city manager through a list of performance points that he had agreed to review. A short time later he announced his resignation.
The airport employees listed in their “Statement of Facts” that Councilors Beemer, Busby and Sawyer, all pilots with planes at the airport, were frequent visitors to the airport terminal, and that Beemer, Busby and Sawyer are frequent attendees of social get-togethers for BBQ lunch on Saturdays. Durham and Vanderbeck contend that the three councilors, on different occasions, along with a number of other private pilots, have derided Voetberg’s performance as city manager. Durham and Vanderbeck also stated in their complaint that discussions among councilors and other pilots, mentioned that certain city operations that would be hard to maintain at current levels if city revenues continued to fall – the airport was one of them.
Durham and Vanderbeck also said in their complaint that on January 23rd that Councilman Dean Sawyer called Terry Durham and chastised him for reporting to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that a pilot, based at the airport, dive bombed a house and a charter boat out on the ocean. Durham contends Sawyer called him a “snitch.” Sawyer is a retired police sergeant. When asked if that was true, Sawyer said “No comment other than I’ll leave it to the investigator to get the whole story.”
Durham and Vanderbeck also said the councilors and other pilots were talking about a plan to ‘get rid’ of Voetberg, that the airport could be run by volunteers and that both airport employees might be reassigned to the wastewater plant. This, they said, constituted the creation of a “hostile work environment for themselves,” both Lance and Vanderbeck.
Councilor Dick Beemer has had no comment on the issue. Councilor Dean Sawyer would say only that “I sincerely welcome a thorough investigation into the allegations.” Councilor Ralph Busby said the complaints were rife with inaccuracies and that it was never his intent to cause any heartburn with the airport employees. He said “Both Lance and Terry are great assets to the city and that they do a great job running the airport. I still count them among my friends.”
Meanwhile a formal investigation has reportedly been launched by agents of the city’s insurance carrier. The action commenced on the suggestion of City Attorney Christy Monson, in Eugene.