Gold Hill fires longtime public works boss Royal Gasso

GOLD HILL — City Council members voted Tuesday to seek the voluntary resignation of embattled public works director Royal Gasso after his arrest last month by state police on drug-related charges.

Councilman Mike Ely, designated council spokesman, confirmed the decision Wednesday, but limited his comments pending the longtime public works chief's response to the council's offer.

Tuesday's meeting marked the end of a 30-day leave of absence ordered by city officials after Gasso was arrested May 16 near Grants Pass for possession of methadone and heroin and driving under the influence of intoxicants.

It is unclear whether Gasso, 56, who has a history of drug use, had a prescription for the drug methadone, often used to treat addiction to opiates and narcotic withdrawal.

Gasso announced he would be signing himself in to a residential treatment program and voiced concern for his family.

Ely said Wednesday that the council had offered Gasso the chance to voluntarily resign out of respect for the years Gasso served the small town.

"City Council last night voted to terminate the employment of Royal Gasso pending his acceptance of an offer of voluntary resignation," Ely said Wednesday.

"He's very good at what he does, however he just put us in an impossible situation. We have to answer to all the voters who are drinking the water and expecting the sewage treatment plant to work properly. "¦ From my standpoint, it's not possible to do that job properly with a heroin problem."

Attempts by the Mail Tribune to contact Gasso via cell phone Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Interim Mayor Gus Wolf, who will take the position of mayor permanently on July 1, and Councilwoman Jan Fish did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The subject of a slew of headlines over the years, Gasso was convicted in the 1980s in New York for possession of heroin with the intent to distribute. According to court records, he had amassed several parole violations and a conviction in Jackson County of driving under the influence of intoxicants at the time.

Caught in a federal drug sting in 2000, Gasso pleaded guilty to attempting to possess heroin, a felony, and was sentenced to 18 months of probation and 40 hours of community service. Because it was a parole violation, Gasso spent time in federal prison but continued to work for the city of Gold Hill, processing grant applications and doing paperwork.

Over his years with the city, Gasso had a hand in helping the city meet environmental regulations for its drinking water and facilitated multimillion dollar projects to replace dilapidated roads and water lines. He oversaw the relocation of the city's water intake in 2006 and helped facilitate the removal of the city's diversion dam, dubbed the second biggest barrier to fish on the Rogue River. Work on the dam's removal began last week.

Earlier this year, council members stood behind Gasso after a state ethics panel ruled he had violated state law when he drove a city-owned vehicle between home and work. City policy had allowed for the use. The council agreed to pay for Gasso's legal fees and his fine with the state.

Ely and Wolf have both commended Gasso on the quality of his work for the city.

Ely said, "We obviously wish him the best in obtaining gainful and meaningful employment."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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