LPD chief calls for year-long jail closure

‘Critical’ staff shortages cited at council meeting

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Police Chief Frank Stevenson told the Lebanon City Council on Wednesday, Dec. 14, that he would have to close the Lebanon Municipal Jail for 12 to 18 months due to a “critical” shortage of staff that puts officer safety levels and risk.
“After several months of looking at it and trying to make it work, I’m at a point where the staff is just unable to make it work,” he said. “It’s not a decision that was made lightly at all.”
The Lebanon Police Department closed the jail on weekends starting July 14 and brought in a retired officer to work there full-time. But, as the department brings in new hires to fill several vacant officer positions, experienced officers — the retired one included — were needed to train them, Stevenson said.
“That leaves nobody in the jail to look after inmates or adults in custody,” he said. “I’ve looked at every option I could come up with to keep it open, but unfortunately, we are at a point where it needs to be shut down until I can get staffing back. I also want to take a deep dive into what it’s going to take to properly run the jail with the best practices in mind.”
What this meant, he said, was that anyone with misdemeanor offenses within the city “might not have the opportunity to go to jail,” but the Linn County Jail might be available on a case-by-case basis. Major crimes, of course, would be referred to that facility.
“We have talked around this ad nauseam,” City Manager Nancy Brewer said. “For both Frank and I, it comes down to officer safety and community safety. Every time we take an officer off the street to check the jail, we don’t have the officer attending to what’s happening in the community.”
Councilor Michelle Steinhebel noted that Sweet Home and Albany doesn’t have municipal jails, and Brewer added it’s “very rare” to have one.
The council also spoke with Republic Services Municipal Manager Julie Jackson and Operations Manager Amy Morgan about its 9 percent rate increase for trash services.
Addressing customer service complaints mentioned at last month’s council meeting, Jackson said that the company moved to a remote work system during COVID-19 but has struggled recently with getting and keeping employees. Until recently, only 14 of 30 available positions statewide were filled, and they handled 59,000 calls this year. Currently, 24 positions are filled.
“Those folks are working hard,” she said. “It’s a really hard job, but there aren’t enough of them right now.”
The staff shortage also extends to CDL drivers, Jackson said, which may contribute to some of the complaints about cart pickups. She added that carts were sometimes missed because of something blocking or being too close to them.
Councilor KJ Ullfers expressed frustration with “overpromising and underdelivering” customer service, adding that he was told of a dumpster pickup that hadn’t in fact happened.
“It really chaffs me when you’re saying, ‘Yeah, we got a few minor problems,’ but I know we have more issues, and then you want us to pay you more money,” he said.
Regarding the rate increase, Jackson said the percentage was calculated based on the city-approved index phased rate adjustment, which would have been 13.4% this year, but Republic adjusted it down to nine. Its main drivers were fuel cost, increased wages to encourage more staffing of drivers, and recycle markets that charged “exorbitant rates.”
City Attorney Tré Kennedy explained that, legally and based on agreements with Republic, the council could not refuse the increase but could take action to renegotiate the contract or explore other trash-service suppliers.
Following a lengthy discussion involving pressure put on Republic Services by councilors, Brewer recommended that the council reassess the customer service issue in six months. The council passed the resolution for the rate increase.
Jackson also provided information about recycling options within the city for anyone needing to dump electronics, cardboard, scrap metal and other similar items. Republic Services will offer a quarterly recycling event throughout the year.

In other business:
♦ Paul Aziz reflected on progress in the city during his 10 years as mayor but credited the accomplishments to city staff.
“I maybe had visions for certain things and staff (and city council) are the people who actually made these things happen,” he said.
Since he first took office, the city’s population has grown by more than 5,600 to nearly 19,000 people, and the budget has grown from $41 million to $67.8 million. Aziz listed myriad accomplishments including increased transparency and technology, increased housing and economic development opportunities, the creation of an arts commission and museum foundation, completion of the city’s first vision plan, expansion of trails, park improvements, improved utilities and increased transit services;
♦ The council honored outgoing mayor Aziz and councilors Wayne Rieskamp and Gamael Nassar;
♦ The council heard public comment from Tina Corr, who spoke about the city’s denial to allow her to keep her pet goose, Sonny. She said a new neighbor had been making false and superficial accusations to the police about the animal.
“I just want you to know that Sonny’s not the one at fault here,” she said through tears. “I don’t want to get rid of Sonny; I can’t. I want you to know that he means a lot to me, and I mean a lot to him.”
Brewer explained that city code allows people to keep farm animals if they are fenced in and their area is kept clean. A petition with neighbors’ signatures needed to be submitted, with no complaints made about the animals. Brewer denied a recent application for the goose because one neighbor did not sign the petition and there were numerous complaints on file, as well as a report about two officers who attempted to remove the goose from a neighbor’s yard.
The city has given Corr options for rehoming the animal.
♦ The council heard public comment from Teresa Neumann, who spoke about youth being sexualized through propaganda, questioned why executive sessions were closed to the public and asked if it was ethical for Lebanon Downtown Association manager Cassie Cruze to use her city-funded position to promote identity politics;
♦ The council heard public comment from Shirley Byrd and Brock Byers of the Family Assistance and Resource Center, who both addressed the city’s recent work regarding decisions for the unhoused (See our story on page 1). Byrd said Nov. 14 recommendations from the city’s Illegal Camping Ad Hoc Committee were insufficient, and the City would rather someone else do the work and foot the bill. Byers said the city had a history of trying to push the homeless out;
♦ The council heard public comment from Deanna Bowser, who spoke about problems with crime and the homeless at Ralston Park, and disagreed with the park becoming a potential location for camping as per the Illegal Camping Ad Hoc Committee;
♦ The council heard public comment from David McClain, who thanked Aziz and Rieskamp for their years of service. He also said he wants to participate more by trying to help the city address its needs;
♦ The council authorized a supplemental budget for fiscal year 2023 for grants received for the senior center and community development department, funding received by Build Lebanon Trails, and to upgrade the city’s phone system;
♦ Brewer reported that utility bills and payments were delayed through the postal service, and that the city would not perform any lockouts this month.
She also reported that Crossroads Community offered an opportunity for a week-long trial of a “sleeping trailer” to provide shelter for eight homeless people and asked if the city would partner with the group to provide a site for the trailer.
Having considered all city-owned property options, Brewer said very few or no suitable locations were available. After some discussion, the proposal was denied.