Eppley allies turn out to defend him to city council

City Manager Chris Eppley

Allies of Keizer’s embattled city manager, Chris Eppley, turned out in droves urging the Keizer City Council to use restraint as they determine what actions will be taken next.

An independent investigator is looking into an incident in which Eppley discharged a gun in his office. No one was injured.

At the beginning of public testimony, which was nearly all in regard to the Eppley’s incident, Mayor Cathy Clark read a lengthy statement about what the council is doing and has been advised to do moving forward.

“By demonstrating our values of treating all people with dignity and respect, and exercising restraint, we hope that our employees and residents know we have committed to gathering the facts and making a decision based on those facts,” Clark said. “You, as the residents of Keizer, have the right to your opinion and we, as the decision makers, have responsibility to retain our objectivity.”

Eppley himself was in attendance at the meeting.

Only one of those who offered testimony supporting Eppley, Susan Dunfee, claimed no prior connection to him.

“I have been very discouraged and upset by the rush to judgment in the attacks against Mr. Eppley,” said Dunfee, “I believe the steps you have taken are in line.”

Eppley’s other supporters included former Keizer city councilors Amy Ryan Courser, Jim Taylor, Richard Walsh, Marlene Parsons and Brandon Smith; former Salem city councilor TJ Sullivan; and members of the Keizer business community.

“He has done a lot of great work and, with anyone here, they need to have the benefit of due process. We should wait for the facts and not rush to judgment,” said James Hutches.

Hutches also read a letter from Jonathan Thompson, president of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce. The letter does not indicate Thompson was acting a spokesperson for the business group.

“I have made mistakes in the past and will again in the future. None of us is perfect. However, I hope that the totality of my life will not be judged by its worst moments. We owe the same to Chris,” Thompson wrote.

Resident Jessica Davidson asked that the council support Eppley “ because nobody in this life is perfect.”

Bob Parsons, the husband of former city councilor M. Parsons, was emotionally shaken at claims the council tried to cover up the incident.

“People with an agenda want to see [Eppley] gone and that is not the way this works,” Parsons said. “I respect him being here to hold his head up while people want to take his head.”

Smith, the former city councilor, meekly recollected his own accidental discharge of a weapon.

“I have a concealed carry license and I had accidental discharge at 25. I could have hurt my wife. My dedication to safety went up 1,000% and has stayed there since that day,” Smith said. “I’m quite sure this has been a learning experience for Mr. Eppley and I would trust him with my life and my safety.”

Sullivan, the former Salem city councilor, lauded Eppley for a laundry list of “good work” for the city and ended his time making light of the incident.

“It will be an awesome story at his retirement party,” Sullivan said.

Only three detractors spoke during public testimony. Councilor Ross Day grew contentious during the testimony of Keizer resident RJ Navarro.

Navarro recalled recent incidents that made news when firearms were accidentally discharged and then police were notified.

“In both instances they notified police because they were genuinely sorry, Yet there has been no police report regarding this incident,” Navarro said.

Day called out Navarro for attempting to impugn the character of city employees. Navarro followed his statement with the assertion he, as a person of color, would have been treated differently.

“There isn’t a jury of peers here, there is a jury of friends,” said Navarro.

Day objected to the statement and accused Navarro of implying the council was racist.

Day also rebuked resident Rich Rodriguez twice during earlier testimony, but Rodriguez testimony could be considered inflammatory.

“When you have a concealed weapons permit and discharge it accidentally it stupid upon stupid,” Rodriguez said.

Eppley told the Statesman Journal earlier this week that he possesses a a concealed carry license.

In written comments submitted, calls for Eppley’s dismissal were prevalent.

“I strongly support removing Mr. Eppley from his position for putting the lives of city workers and city residents in danger,” wrote Anna McKenzie. “ He is paid handsomely by the taxpayers and puts all that enter that facility at risk.”

Eppley’s salary as Keizer city manager is more than $160,00, the figure does not include health benefits, retirement contributions and other benefits such as a reimbursement for using a personal vehicle for work-related duties.

“It does not say good things if leaders can dodge the consequences purely by virtue of being at the top of the totem pole. The law applies to us all. The rules of conduct apply to all city employees, even those making six figures and writing policy, wrote Will and Sarah Comerford.

Resident LaTonya Gibbs called Eppley’s conduct “disgraceful in a letter to the council.

“Chris Eppley not only should be jobless at this point, he should be charged and arraigned. Keizer needs to show now how Keizer Strong it is and make certain that any and all will have to accept the repercussions of bad decisions,” Gibbs wrote.

City councilors are fond of using the term “Keizer Strong” as a rallying cry when situations are difficult or uncomfortable.