Parks and Recreation worker suspected of theft

ASHLAND — A second Ashland Parks and Recreation Department worker in less than three weeks is suspected of stealing city property after police found a ladder, a pair of gloves and tools belonging to the city at his residence, Ashland police said.

Steve Lawrence, of the 7000 block of Crowfoot Road, Trail, was not present when police served a warrant at his home Wednesday, which led to the recovery of nearly $200 worth of city property scattered throughout his personal belongings, Ashland police Lt. Corey Falls said.

Lawrence, a 12-year employee of the city, was charged with second-degree theft and placed on administrative leave by the city of Ashland.

Falls said Ashland police requested a warrant for Lawrence's residence after receiving a tip from a community member who reportedly had seen Ashland city property at Lawrence's home.

The charge against Lawrence is not as extensive as those brought against Parks and Recreation Department employee Harold Ross Straub, 42, of Rogue River, on Nov. 19, but Parks Director Don Robertson is taking each matter "very seriously," he said.

Straub was arrested and charged with first-degree theft and first- and second-degree theft by receiving after about $1,000 worth of city property was found at his home.

"I can't tolerate this type of behavior. I can't accept it, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure it will never happen again," Robertson said. "Myself and all the employees have a tremendous responsibility to the citizens of our community ... and to violate that trust gives everyone here a black eye, and that is just unacceptable."

Robertson would not describe the process that workers are supposed to follow when checking out and returning items through the work day, saying it was confidential in light of the continuing police investigation.

"We track our equipment to the best of our abilities ... and do our absolute best to make sure what equipment goes out comes back in," he said.

Robertson said the department plans to pursue each matter to the fullest extent of the law and take steps to prevent this type of incident from happening in the future.

"Every quarter we do a training meeting with all of our employees ... and we are going to be ramping up, and beefing up the portions on ethics training," he said.

Although the incidents are separated by less than a month, Robertson and police said they do not feel they are related or that the two employees were acting together.

Robertson also said he does not believe the actions of Lawrence and Straub reflect recurring behavior among Parks Department employees,

"I'm not prepared to call it a trend at this point, but we want to make sure that it does not become one," he said. "We need to stamp this out now."

Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-774-4468.

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