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A Historic Lay Off: City of Bend cries poor, lays off historic preservation watchdog 

Pat Kliewer had been called the historic preservation "sheriff" for her dogged efforts to protect Deschutes County's historic and cultural resources. And she's been called

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Pat Kliewer had been called the historic preservation "sheriff" for her dogged efforts to protect Deschutes County's historic and cultural resources. And she's been called other things too - not all of them flattering - for her unwavering enforcement of the county's sometimes strict historic codes.

But come March she's being called something else - unemployed.

City of Bend brass recently notified Kliewer that they were eliminating her historic preservation planning position as they grapple with a massive funding shortfall due to the slowdown in home building.

The decision has been met with a mix of surprise and frustration - the city has received scores of letters from supporters urging them to rethink the layoff - from preservation advocates many of whom have worked closely with Kliewer over the past seven years when she has served as the staff person to the county's historic landmarks commission.

It has also raised question about the city of Bend's long-term commitment to historic preservation.

"The reality is landmarks is seen as a roadblock to development and right now with the economy down, people want to lessen the roadblocks. That's where we're going, it has that feeling for me," said Derek Stevens a local builder who sits on the landmarks commission.

City staff said the decision is a matter of simple economics and an effort to maximize the department's resources as it wrestles with a $2.7 million shortfall. Managers told Kliewer that they hoped to save $80,000 by eliminating her salary and benefits.

Community Development Director Mel Oberst, who made the decision to eliminate the position, said there are half a dozen other planners who can do Kliewer's job.

For preservationists the news is confirmation of fears they had just a few years ago when the city pushed Deschutes County, Redmond and Sisters to restructure the county landmarks commission to give Bend greater clout on historic preservation decisions. Part of that restructuring included moving Kliewer's position from the county planning department to the city where it was placed under the umbrella of the community development division in 2005 and eliminated in 2007.

Stevens said commissioners were taken aback by the fact that the city never consulted them about the decision to eliminate Kliewer's job.

They weren't the only ones in the dark about the city's plan. The three other jurisdictions - Sisters, Redmond and Deschutes County - that partially fund Kliewer's position and rely on her for all their historic planning reviews weren't asked for their input either.

They heard through the grapevine or from Kliewer herself that her job had been cut.

"We were sort of the last ones to know and we were a little surprised to put it mildly," said Eric Porter, community development director in Sisters and a former member of the landmarks commission.

Kliewer looked at all of Sisters new downtown buildings for compliance with the 1880s Western theme and did all of the city's planning work for designated historic properties, which are afforded special protections under Goal 5 of Oregon's land use planning laws.

When asked if the county was consulted on the decision to eliminate Kliewer's position, Deschutes County Planning Director Catherine Morrow said they were "notified" of the move a few days prior. However, after further investigation, Morrow later said that she was informed about the decision roughly a half-hour before Kliewer was laid off.

CDD Director Mel Oberst said the city was under no obligation to notify the other jurisdictions, or consult with them about the decision to eliminate Kliewer's position.

"It's a city of Bend position and it's on the city of Bend payroll. It shows up in our city of Bend budget. And the city of Bend made a decision," Oberst said.

While its true that the position was administrated by Bend, Kliewer's job is governed by an intergovernmental agreement between three cities (Bend, Redmond and Sisters) and the county. Each jurisdiction paid a portion of Kliewer's salary in an amount roughly proportional to the work she did for it.

However, it now appears that the city has failed to bill the other jurisdictions for Kliewer's work on their behalf over the past two years. That amounted to about $26,000 just for the 2007-08 fiscal year, according to a November e-mail from the city finance office.

Oberst said he wasn't aware that the city hadn't been billing the jurisdictions for Kliewer's work until he met with them recently to discuss her lay off and the future of the landmarks commission. The city also doesn't seem to have a good handle on the fees that Kliewer generates for her planning review work.

When she asked for a recent accounting of those fees collected between July and December, Kliewer said she was given a printout by the planning administrative staff showing she had worked on four projects that generated a total of $1,250 in fees. Kliewer said that is just a fraction of the work she has done for the city.

She also has a good deal of grant writing experience, which she uses to underwrite her work. Kliewer said that over the past two years she's secured about$35,000 in grants to help fund her position. Kliewer said that when she pointed that out to Oberst, he told he wasn't aware of the grant subsidies.

The day she was laid off Kliewer was starting work on a transportation grant that she had identified independently worth up to $1 million. She has since halted work on that project to focus on the other work she already has to finish by March.

Kliewer who is 62 years old - just a few years from retirement - and without any immediate job prospects, said she is frustrated that her managers seem to know so little about her job, or her for that matter. Kliewer said that in the two years she has worked under Oberst in the planning department, he hasn't attended a single meeting of the historic landmarks commission - a fact that Oberst confirmed in a subsequent interview.

Kliewer said her supervisors were also unaware that she had any professional planning experience outside historic preservation.

"They assumed wrongly that I was born a historic preservation planner, that that's all I've done my entire life," Kliewer said. "(Oberst) told me that 'since you can only do historic planning and that's kind of a frill that I was picked for that reason.'"

In fact, Kliewer had done extensive work on transportation and urban growth planning. But she said managers weren't interested in that or any other options that would have preserved her position in some form.

She said the city never considered reducing her hours or raising some of the historic planning fees, which are some of the lowest among the city's planning fees.

Kliewer said she has asked repeatedly for her managers to put the reason for her lay off down in writing but they have declined.

At this point, Kliewer said she is resigned to the idea that her job is going to be eliminated for good in March along with the other 9 jobs outlined in the city layoffs.

She's already started trying to refinance her home. She has been offered no extended benefits or a severance package. When she asked about medical coverage the city's HR director slid a COBRA medical form across the desk to her. The monthly premium for coverage under the program? Just over $1,000 per month for her and her husband.

Kliewer compares that to the hundreds of thousands of dollars the city has paid out its ousted city managers over the past couple of years and shakes her head.

Those who have worked with Kliewer over the years say she is irreplaceable. Without her time, energy and passion for the job, they wonder just how city can hope to offer the same level of service and accountability.

"What the (landmarks) commissioners are freaked about beyond the fact that Pat has done a hell of a job is that it's a load of work she does and does it well...She is meticulous to a fault," said Stevens.

Meanwhile, representatives of Sisters, Deschutes County have all met to discuss the future of the joint county historic landmarks commission and remain committed to preserving the cooperative agreement, said county planning director Catherine Morrow.

Under the new agreement each jurisdiction will provide its own planning support work, previously done by Kliewer. Morrow said the county already has someone on staff that can pick up the county's share of the paperwork.

Still, she said she is sorry to lose Kliewer and her years of experience and expertise.

"We've been getting Cadillac service, no doubt about it. I guess the city decided they couldn't afford it anymore," Morrow said.

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