City & Government, Cottage Grove, Creswell, Public Safety & Health

Update: Wooten still on leave; Chronicle receives documents

SLCF&R Fire Chief John Wooten

NOTE: Story updated at 2:15 p.m. SLCF&R Board Chairman Joel Higdon called the newspaper this afternoon to correct an earlier statement regarding Chief John Wooten’s status.

COTTAGE GROVE — John Wooten, the embattled fire chief of the South Lane County Fire & Rescue Department, was scheduled to return to work Monday, July 6, after being reinstated by the board June 18, but remains on leave, according to Board Chairman Joel Higdon.

Higdon said Wednesday afternoon that he was mistaken when he told The Chronicle on Tuesday that Wooten was back in the office. “He remains out of the office, and I can’t be any more specific than that,” Higdon said.

Following the June 18 meeting, The Chronicle submitted three Freedom of Information Act requests to the SLCF&R office for emails, voicemail and Wooten’s performance reviews. Department officials responded to the request and The Chronicle is reviewing that content. 

At the meeting where Wooten was reinstated, Higdon said “we received 386 emails regarding the situation” from community members. The Chronicle was given 152 emails on June 30. The sentiments fell into three categories: Reinstate Wooten without discipline (19), reinstate Wooten with discipline (13) and fire Wooten (120).

The chief had been placed on non-disciplinary paid leave by the board after several posts from his private, social media page were exposed. The posts were first made public by KEZI in Eugene, and included memes depicting the Coronavirus pandemic as a hoax and Wooten’s description of how to shoot protesters. 

Wooten, who was out of office from June 18 until his return Monday, had sent The Chronicle an email on June 24 stating:

“I am truly sorry for all the divisiveness and negativity comments released from my personal Facebook page created for the community. … I give you my absolute commitment to improve myself and become a better leader and example for others. I will not squander this opportunity to learn and help others.”

The board reinstated the fire chief without disciplinary action in a 3-2 vote on June 18, which led to the immediate resignation of vice president Jennifer Radcliffe, who voted against the chief’s reinstatement.

“My resignation is based on my lack of confidence in the majority of the board and how they conducted themselves through the disciplinary process,” Radcliffe said. 

The Chronicle will have a complete report on the entire controversy in next week’s editions. 



View this profile on Instagram


The Chronicle (@thechronicle1909) • Instagram photos and videos