City sign
The sign that was hit by Mayor Chas Jones on July 26 was repaired. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Late on the evening of July 26 following a City Council meeting, Mayor Chas Jones backed up and damaged a city sign in the parking lot. Although the situation would have the appearance of a minor “oops” moment, the incident ended up involving an outside police department and court jurisdiction, failure to perform the duties of a driver citation, a special closed meeting of the City Council and discussions that ultimately led to the signing this week of a civil compromise.

The agreement allows Jones to reimburse the city for the $305.02 in costs associated with the incident.

The sign that Jones hit was located in the parking lot area in between the police station and City Hall. The sign post was not embedded in concrete, but in a gravel base.

City Attorney Jim Brewer, in a Sept. 7 memo to the City Council, reported that Jones did not stop to determine if the post was damaged. Surveillance cameras captured the incident on video and Philomath police reviewed it the following morning.

After determining that the mayor was involved, local police asked the Corvallis Police Department to investigate. Jones was issued a citation for failing to perform the duties of a driver. The case went to Benton County Circuit Court instead of Philomath Municipal Court.

Brewer said civil compromises to resolve traffic incidents that damage city property are routine administrative matters and normally the decision would be made by the city manager or finance director.

“In this case, because Mr. Jones is the mayor, the city manager and city attorney felt this should be a matter decided by the City Council (absent Mayor Jones), rather than city staff,” Brewer’s memo reads.

Jones said he remembers the parking lot appearing somewhat dark on that evening and for some reason, he backed up in a different direction than what he said was typical for him.

“As I applied the brakes to stop, I clearly felt that the car contacted something,” Jones said. “I looked in my rearview mirror and saw that I had bumped a wooden 4-by-4 post. From my perspective, it appeared to be standing vertical and unaffected by the impact. Given that it was late and that the post appeared to be fine, I thought to myself, ‘Well any damage done was to my car. … it’s late, it’s been a long day, I’ll just look at the car when I get home.’”

Jones said that when he arrived home, he saw no damage to his vehicle.

“The next morning, I believe that one of our officers noticed that the signpost … was sitting 10-15 degrees out of vertical,” Jones said. “They reviewed our city cameras, saw that I had bumped the post, and referred it to Corvallis PD to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.”

Jones said if it had occurred in his driveway, he would’ve “straightened the post by hand and tamped the ground with my feet to return the post to its preimpact condition. My understanding is that city staff originally did that as well, but they have since placed a medium-sized rock in front of the post.”

Jones said he doesn’t mean to negate the situation.

“I should have exited my car, looked for any potential damage to city property and reported any damage to the city,” Jones said. “Because I didn’t do that, I was unaware that I had knocked the post out of plumb.”

The City Council met in executive session on Aug. 23 to provide direction to the city attorney on how to handle the situation.

During the Sept. 13 open meeting, Jones recused himself from the conversation. Brewer reminded councilors that they were not obligated to enter into the agreement but in the end, the civil compromise was approved on a 5-1 vote.

Councilor Catherine Biscoe, who voted nay, said she “was uncomfortable being put in a situation where optics-wise, it might be perceived that special favors or allowances were made.”

Biscoe added that she appreciates the idea of judicial expediency but considering the dollar amount, hoped that it could’ve been taken care of without involving the City Council, saying that she “would’ve preferred that if it couldn’t be taken care of as far as making the city whole, that the courts were best left to do what they do best, which is be in this position of making a decision considering the factors here.”

Jones said he was grateful to see the matter come to a close.

“It was an unfortunate situation, but I learned a lesson and now I have a story that I can regale to my friends and family,” Jones said. “A story that can be written into Philomath lore for generations to come.”

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