City Commissioner Randy Leonard met with 150 "impacted" employees of cuts at the Bureau of Development Services this morning, to tell them why 48 are going to be fired on July 31, and then another 48, and then another 48 over the next six months. You can read more about the reasoning behind the layoffs in a letter by Leonard here. I'd tell you what exactly Leonard said to the employees this morning, except I was physically pushed out of the door by a BDS staffer as I tried to walk in, and told in the strongest terms by another that there were "no press allowed."
"The meeting was closed because I wanted it to be closed," said Leonard, afterwards. "People were very emotional and a lot of these people are used to working introspectively. I didn't want peoples' raw feelings being reported in the media, and I didn't want it to be viewed as grandstanding on any side."
Leonard says he checked with the city attorney's office last night as to whether he could bar the press, "cos when I threw your ass out of the room I wanted to make sure I couldn't be sued," he said.
I've asked the city attorney's office for clarification on their reasons for closing the meeting and will let you know what they say if and when they get back to me. In the mean time, perhaps an expert on Oregon Public Meetings law might like to weigh in? It'd be cheaper than calling our lawyer...
Three employees left the meeting in tears, as Leonard, dressed in a red tie with a blue button-down shirt, sipped from a takeout coffee mug and took questions with a serious expression on his face. I waited outside the door to ask employees about their impressions of the meeting.
"I think the press should have been allowed in," said Robert Fraley, a city planner and father who is being laid off on July 31. "This is a public agency and there's no reason why the public shouldn't be able to hear about what's going to happen to these public employees. The timing is very sudden, and I don't have a plan at this point other than to collect unemployment."
"I think it's disgusting that you weren't allowed in," said BDS employee Ronda Fast. "Leonard just read some prepared comments, but this was a public building. That's really unbelievable."
Fast said the tone of audience questions had "ebbed and flowed." "Although generally there was not as much animosity as I expected," she said. "I think that's Leonard's skill. He's able to distract people. That's something he's good at. But we don't have any more answers today than we had yesterday."
"It feels inexcusable that this landed in such a way," said a middle-aged woman who didn't want to be named. "From Friday morning to Friday evening their position just totally turned on a dime. It's very upsetting."
"I think we're all just shocked at the level of cuts," said another city planner. "Nobody's happy with the timeframe but I guess this would always have been sudden."
Others were more philosophical. "Revenues are down, people are going to get laid off," said a middle-aged man who also preferred to remain anonymous. "That's the reality of everyone's world."
"I've been through another round of this before," said another unnamed employee. "Commissioner Leonard has always been straight with us. He's a good guy."
Leonard described the meeting as "really very difficult," emerging after almost two hours. "It's not something I ever want to have to do again."
Leonard has offered to work two weeks without pay, and plans to hire one laid-off employee to run his front desk. "I understand why people are upset," he said. "I don't think people liked the answer but they understood it."