(Updated) Ashland parks worker resigns in ongoing theft investigation

An Ashland Parks & Recreation Department employee has resigned following allegations of theft of parks equipment. One employee was fired earlier this month and two employees are on paid administrative leave while an investigation continues.

Steve Lawrence, a 12-year parks employee, resigned and is no longer employed with the department, Parks Director Don Robertson said today. (Correction: This story has been updated to clarify details of Lawrence's departure from the department.)

On Dec. 8, police served a search warrant at Lawrence's home in Trail and found a ladder, gloves and tools belonging to the city of Ashland and valued at about $200, city officials said.

Harold Ross Straub, a 20-year department veteran, was fired earlier this month after being arrested on Nov. 19 on suspicion of stealing gas, fertilizer and equipment. Police served a search warrant at Straub's Rogue River home and recovered tools, a wheelbarrow, a ladder and fertilizer valued at about $1,000 from the property, city officials said.

Meanwhile, Straub's work partner, Shane Peabody, is on paid administrative leave, Robertson said today, adding he could not disclose details.

However, a November affidavit supporting a search warrant served at Straub's property shows that Peabody was at least aware that Straub was taking gas.

Ashland Police Detective Sgt. James Alderman set up surveillance at the parks department's Oak Knoll Public Golf Course at 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 10 and observed Straub pour gas from four department gas cans into his personal vehicle.

"While Straub was pouring gas into his truck, Peabody walked over and Straub had to put the gas can down so he could give Peabody a key to a backhoe that was in his pocket," Alderman wrote in the affidavit.

Police believe Straub took more than $1,000 worth of city government-owned gas in the past six months, in addition to supplies and equipment, the affidavit stated.

An unnamed parks department office worker remains on paid administrative leave while an investigation continues, Robertson said.

In an earlier interview with the Tidings, Straub said he was just borrowing parks department property and took gas as compensation for using his personal truck at work.

Robertson said the parks department has had a posted written policy since 1999 that bans borrowing. He said parks employees are discouraged from using their personal vehicles at work, but if they do, they should fill out reimbursement forms to receive 50 cents per mile.

Since the arrests, Robertson said he has met with every parks department employee in small groups to discuss ethics and the fact that borrowing is not allowed.

All city of Ashland employees will receive refresher training on ethics, said City Administrator Martha Bennett.

"It's got to be done. It's really important," she said.

— Vickie Aldous

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