County assessor resigns

Jackson County Assessor Dan Ross resigned abruptly last week, citing a "hostile" work environment as the main reason for leaving a post he has held since 1989.

"I'm consulting my lawyer," Ross said. "That's all I'm going to say."

He wouldn't disclose the specific reasons for quitting, but Ross faces a Human Resources Department review of complaints from the assessor's staff and one former employee said he was verbally abusive toward staff.

The county Board of Commissioners asked voters this year to make the assessor's position appointed rather than elected, but the idea was voted down. The commissioners did not link the vote to Ross' performance, but it was clear they believed there were issues in the Assessor's Office.

Ross said he offered his resignation Wednesday, then packed his belongings and left the office.

"My wife and I decided that I could no longer work in a hostile environment," Ross said. "I decided last Tuesday that I was going to resign, quit or retire."

The commissioners have chosen Scott Fraedrick, chief appraiser for the office, to serve as interim assessor until the next election.

Ross was first elected to the position 22 years ago, after working as an appraiser for the Assessor's Office for nine years.

After winning re-election in 2008, Ross would have faced another election in 2012. His salary was $99,403 and was scheduled to be increased to $105,040 in 2012. Ross will be eligible for Oregon's public employees retirement plan.

Ross said it was his intention to stay on as assessor, but the hostile conditions made that untenable. He declined to describe what those conditions were.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said the county continues to deal with personnel issues related to the Assessor's Office.

In July, Jordan and Human Resources Director Tony Keller stepped in to help Ross run the office.

"We are intervening to deal with issues of complaints by employees," Jordan said Tuesday.

County officials haven't disclosed what the nature of the complaints were, other than to say they had to do with communication issues.

Two former employees of the Assessor's Office, who asked that their names be withheld, said Ross himself had created a hostile work environment for employees over the years, firing some because of differences of opinion. One former employee who worked for the assessor's for more than 20 years said workers under Ross were subjected to "degrading verbal abuse."

"He's done a lot of damage to the people who worked there," the employee said.

Ross previously said that a reduced staff and computer changes had increased tensions in his office.

In January, the department reduced its managers from five to three, after one retired and another was fired, Ross said. In July the department cut the equivalent of 3.4 other positions, for budget reasons.

Rosemary Hardin, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Revenue, said her department, which would have oversight over any problems with a county assessor's office, is not conducting an investigation in Jackson County.

She said she was not aware of any investigations of the Assessor's Office in the past in Jackson County.

Commissioner John Rachor said he was surprised by Ross' decision to leave.

Rachor said he attempted to contact Ross last week to find out why he decided to leave but never received a return call.

He said he wondered if Ross was upset when commissioners proposed making the assessor an appointed position rather than elected.

"That's what I wanted to talk to him about," he said.

Commissioner C.W. Smith said the county and the assessor had a difference of opinion about a computer program designed to streamline the assessment process.

"I don't think he was prepared for the rapidity of how the changes were going to take place," Smith said.

Commissioner Don Skundrick did not return a phone call requesting comment on Ross' decision.

In his letter to the commissioners, Ross wrote, "It is with great anticipation of new beginnings that I tender my resignation effective Aug. 31, 2011."

His two-paragraph letter ended by stating, "It has been a pleasure, and I praise God for allowing me to have such a rewarding job for so many years."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

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