Mayor Deb Simmons of Manzanita resigned from her post, submitting a letter of resignation that went into effect immediately on November 13.
The decision follows questions surrounding the mayor’s residency, that drew concern from the community and members of the city council, who scheduled an executive session to discuss the issue at their November meeting.
Simmons was elected in November 2022, to replace the retiring Mike Scott after running unopposed for the position and her term was marked from the beginning by controversy.
At her first meeting in January of this year, Simmons angered other councilors by rejecting a search committee’s nominees for Manzanita’s planning commission, saying that she did not agree with their recommendations after reviewing the candidates. Simmons also said that she had misgivings about the search process after discussing it with the mayors of other cities.
Simmons appointed different candidates than those recommended at the February meeting, leading Councilor Jerry Spegman and then-Councilor Jenna Edginton to question her handling of the matter.
Edginton said that the search process had been designed by the previous council to prevent the appearance of mayoral cronyism and Simmons’s rejection of it had concerned members of the community. Spegman questioned Simmons’s reliance on outside mayors rather than discussions with her predecessor and both bemoaned the embarrassment caused and time wasted by applicants and search committee members.
Controversy again flared in May, when a group of citizens filed public records requests for the mayor’s emails, revealing what they viewed as inappropriate correspondence with Manzanita resident Randy Kugler. Kugler served as Manzanita’s city manager between 1989 and 1996 before later retiring to the community and losing in a 2020 campaign for city council.
In the emails, Simmons repeatedly sought Kugler’s guidance on city issues and thanked him for coaching her.
More than 20 residents signed a letter protesting the contents of the emails, saying that they did not agree with Kugler’s antagonistic stance towards City Manager Leila Aman and calling him an “obsessive faultfinder.” They asked Simmons to sever her relationship with Kugler and work to bring people together and protect city employees, rather than pursue a strategy of divisiveness and allow what they characterized as the continued harassment of employees by Kugler.
Simmons responded angrily to the letter after it was read into the public record at the council’s May meeting, saying that she was concerned at being asked to end a friendship. She said that she had never expected to be told who to communicate with as an adult and argued that disagreements were a part of democracy.
Simmons drew the ire of her fellow councilors again in June, when she submitted a letter to the editor to the Tillamook County Pioneer criticizing the city’s proposed budget that was up for consideration that month. Simmons questioned the city’s overhead funding model, which sees water revenues contribute a portion of the city’s budget, and took issue with past councils’ decision not to raise water rates or complete capital projects.
Budget committee members and Spegman, Edginton and City Councilor Linda Kozlowski took exception to Simmons raising policy concerns in the budgeting process that should have been addressed by council. Councilors also noted that Aman had been working to address many of the complaints raised by Simmons.
Kozlowski read a statement saying that the publication of the editorial without consulting the council breached the city’s charter and that she was deeply disappointed with the situation.
All three said that they felt the incident was another indicator of Simmons’s failure to form good working relationships with her fellow councilors and beseeched her to change that pattern.
Controversy erupted for a final time at the council’s November meeting, when Councilor Jerry Spegman added an item to the agenda to discuss Simmons’s residency.
Before Spegman could introduce his item, Simmons interjected, asserting her right to take advantage of the bully pulpit to address the situation. Simmons said that she and her husband had sold their home in September due to the need to move to the Portland Metro Area to pursue medical treatment for her husband.
Simmons said that she was staying at an address less than half a mile away from her former property in Manzanita but did not delineate her division of time between there and a new home in Wilsonville where her husband lives full time.
Simmons said that she had cleared the move with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office and Manzanita’s city attorney and had shared a letter with the council explaining the situation in October. She explained that she had not been more communicative because of concern for her and her husband’s privacy.
Spegman disputed Simmons’s characterization of the situation, saying that her explanation had only been offered after he raised the issue by putting it on the agenda for the council’s October meeting, which was subsequently canceled. Spegman also said that the property had sold in early August, which property records confirmed, meaning there had been a two-month period with no communication.
The city’s attorney clarified that Simmons had only asked about the implications of moving within the city on qualifications for office, not mentioning a split-time arrangement. The attorney went on to say that it was the council’s duty to determine the mayor and councilors’ fitness for service and it was an important responsibility.
Other councilors said that they shared Simmons’s privacy concerns but that the issue had raised too many questions in the community to go unaddressed. They asked city staff to schedule an executive session to discuss the issue further.
However, Simmons submitted a letter of resignation, effective immediately, on November 13.
In the letter, Simmons wrote of her journey to becoming mayor and through her tenure, saying that she brought a belief in open and honest dialogue, and sound administration to the position. She said that her votes while mayor had been informed by a desire to have citizens vote on major budget expenditures, uphold the city’s charter and respect the city’s neighborhoods.
Simmons did not mention her residency status in the letter and explained that over her year on council she had found “the vocal minority to be charting the course for the city.” She detailed a conversation with “a teacher of Buddha” who advised that in situations dealing with “toxic people” it was necessary to acknowledge their anger and pain if hopefulness and compassion failed to achieve results.
Simmons said that the resignation was “based on irreconcilable differences” and effective immediately, but wrote, “nevertheless, I still hold out hope that the sanguine majority who love Manzanita as I do, the majority, will eventually prevail.”
The vacancy will now be posted for a period of 30 days, starting on November 20, with applications due by December 20 at 5 p.m. Council will then interview candidates at their January meeting and select a replacement to complete the term.