Some members of Oregon City Council were surprised to learn that a separation agreement the city made with former Police Chief Tom Gulch in 2007 included a clause that prohibits him from publicly saying or doing anything that will portray the city administration in a negative light.
Those who were on council at the time remember approving the agreement, but say the administration withheld the clause from their review.
“When we voted on Gulch’s package to go, I do not remember that being in the paperwork that we looked over,” said Councilman Bill Myers, adding that he will vote on Monday to lift the restriction on Gulch so he can talk about whether he conducted an investigation in 2002 of a woman’s complaints about Officer Jeff Brown, Mayor Marge Brown’s son.
Councilman Jerry Peach said he also wasn’t aware of the restrictive clause.
“I did know there was an agreement between the city and Gulch outlining his separation with the city, but I had not read that agreement until Tuesday,” he said. “It was not anything council was involved in or approved by ordinance. It was between the administration and Gulch.”
Councilman Jim Seaman agreed.
“The Gulch separation agreement was done at the executive level. It makes you wonder if there are some details that may interest council and the rest of the community concerning his separation,” said Seaman. “It’s important for people to understand that council did not put the gag order on him. It was Mayor Brown and her administration. I did not know Gulch had this order until Monday night’s meeting. I am going to find out Monday night why [the clause] was put there in the first place.”
Administrator Ken Filipiak said neither he nor Mayor Brown asked for the clause. Law Director Paul Goldberg, he said, had included it.
Goldberg said it is not unusual for restrictive clauses to be added to separation agreements, though he couldn’t recall other former employees who had them.
“They’re pretty standard. When people leave, they want to go on a high note,” said Goldberg. “The agreements are around somewhere, but I don’t have them here.”
Goldberg disputed Myers’ and Seaman’s claims that they did not see the clause in Gulch’s separation agreement.
“There was no ordinance on it, but as I recall, it was discussed by council,” said Goldberg. “I thought they saw the whole thing. There was no reason to keep it a secret from council.”
If the clause is removed, Gulch would be free to talk about whether he investigated complaints of Nichole Rhoades, who alleged in 2002 that she had sex with Brown numerous times while he was on duty.
Police Chief Rick Stager contends that Brown could have been terminated, but was not because Gulch was aware of her allegations at the time “and did nothing.”
Seaman said he was disappointed Assistant Chief Paul Magdich, who led an internal affairs investigation of Brown this year, did not find prior reports of Rhoades’ complaints.
“I have a right to be upset that no report was found,” said Seaman. “Someone is concealing something or there was not a thorough investigation done at the time. If anything was concealed, maybe we will find out when the order is lifted.”
Seaman said he will ask Gulch on Monday whether he filed a report on Rhoades’ allegations.
“He might have done an investigation and maybe that was part of the gag order,” said Seaman. “Gulch is very disciplined and very competent so I can’t believe he would not have done one. The man has high integrity. If he did a report, I hope it is available. If he did not do one, I want to hear his explanation.”
Goldberg also said there should have been an investigation of Rhoades’ complaints.
“They were very serious allegations,” he said.
Seaman said he would vote to remove the clause on Monday as long as Gulch is at the meeting.
Peach said he also would vote to amend the agreement.
“If Gulch feels it is a roadblock for him to speak candidly, we will be happy to do what we can to remove that roadblock. If Gulch has something to say, we want to hear it. Right now, there’s nothing more than suspicions about what happened to a report. Maybe he can shed more light on the Jeff Brown issue. If a report has disappeared, how could members of council not be concerned about that?”
Council heard on Monday that the city’s insurance premiums decreased this year, though Seaman believes they could go back up if any of the women who complained about Brown in the internal affairs investigation file lawsuits.
Brown’s repeated and illegal use of a Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS) on an ex-girlfriend, in particular, could open the city to a lawsuit, he said.
“Our professional liability insurance is down now to $154,000 per year. We paid a much higher premium, $235,000, a couple of years after the [Candace] Elliot incident,” he said.
Elliot, a former police officer who was terminated during her probationary period with the police department in 2003, sued the city for alleged discrimination and received a $183,000 settlement, though the city never admitted wrongdoing.
Elliot claimed in her lawsuit that she was dismissed, in part, because she had rejected the sexual advances of Officer Brown, one of her training officers.
Seaman said he had expressed his concern to Mayor Brown, when she was a member of council, about her son being hired by the police department.
“I don’t like nepotism and it is never a good position to be in,” said Seaman. “I think Jeff took advantage that his mother is the mayor.”
Councilman Mike Seferian said he’s ready to hear what Gulch has to say.
“Let people speak their mind. The simplest thing is to rescind those paragraphs in the ordinance, and let this council vote on it. I’ll vote to rescind it. I don’t want people to feel their hands are tied, like they have restrictions on them. It’s a free county. It’s what this country was built on.”
Council President Mike Sheehy said he is not concerned whether Gulch investigated earlier complaints of Brown.
“Magdich did a thorough investigation, and that investigation was complete,” he said. “I am not, and have not, been concerned about it. I feel it’s time to move on.”
He is unsure how he’ll vote Monday.
“I am in favor of full disclosure and getting to the truth of the matter. It will be interesting to see what he has to say,” he said.