Ashland parks worker in theft probe resigns

ASHLAND — A second Ashland Parks and Recreation employee has left the department after allegations of theft of equipment, 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 as of Wednesday, Parks Director Don Robertson said.

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. Police cited him on a charge of second-degree theft.

Harold Ross Straub, a 20-year department veteran, was fired 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, has been placed on paid administrative leave, Robertson said Wednesday, 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.

The city normally conducts ethics training every other year anyway, but will schedule refresher training as soon as the end of January, she said.

Regular ethics training of city employees is needed because the city gets new employees from other states and the private sector who may not be aware of Oregon and Ashland laws, Bennett said.

The city of Ashland's ethical laws are even more strict than those of the state, she said.

The Ashland Municipal Code specifically states that public officials cannot use city-owned property for personal use unless it is available to all members of the public. That means that borrowing city equipment to use at home is not only unethical, it is illegal, Bennett wrote in a message about the ethics training on the city's website.

As part of the training, city officials will emphasize that all employees have a responsibility to report suspected illegal behavior on the part of their co-workers, she said.

During an almost two-month-long police investigation into alleged parks department thefts, many city employees, including parks workers, provided information and aided police, the affidavit said.

Sources familiar with parks operations said that for many years there has been a subculture of employees engaged in unethical behavior.

Parks officials said, in the past, they had a difficult time getting hard evidence about suspected misconduct when employees would make reports about suspicious activities.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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