State commission drops complaint
Jefferson County commissioners Walt Ponsford and Bill Bellamy were cleared of ethics violation charges on Friday, when the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission threw out a complaint filed against them by Commissioner Mary Zemke.
In her complaint, Zemke alleged that the two commissioners violated the executive session provisions of Oregon's public meeting law when they discussed complaints against her without advance notice, which would have allowed her the opportunity to request an open meeting.
On July 18, the GSPC received the complaint, which included an audiotape of the June 15 executive session, according to Don Crabtree, interim director of the GSPC.
Crabtree said Monday that the five members of the seven-member commission who attended the Sept. 29 meeting voted unanimously to dismiss the complaint.
"It does not appear that there is a substantial objective basis to believe that a violation of the executive session provisions of the public meetings law occurred," Crabtree wrote in the preliminary review.
The report noted that the audiotape was unauthenticated -- since it hadn't been obtained through established procedures -- but did "reflect some criticism of Commissioner Zemke and the manner in which she carried out her duties."
The executive session was called to discuss issues related to current and likely litigation related to Measure 37 issues, but Zemke contended that it was more about complaints against her.
"In listening to the recording it did appear, in part to be a critique of Commissioner Zemke. Among the comments were some directed at her involvement with the Measure 37 Committee, her opposition to positions taken by other county officials, her counter proposals and her criticism of the county staff," the report noted.
Responding on behalf of Bellamy and Ponsford, County Counsel Jacki Haggerty suggested that Zemke's complaint was politically motivated, and part of an effort to have Ponsford and Bellamy recalled.
At a regular County Commission meeting on June 14, one day before the executive session, Ponsford had asked Zemke to resign as a result of a memorandum she wrote to the other two commissioners on behalf of the Measure 37 Committee, and a letter she wrote to county voters, which suggested that voters remove commissioners from office if they don't follow the committee's interpretation of the law.
The review quoted Haggerty's explanation that the executive session dealt with "the collective issue of Measure 37 litigation, both pending and threatened, within the context of the new proposals in Commissioner Zemke's memo and her ongoing actions adverse to the county."
The review concluded, "It appears that the executive session was properly convened and for a topic allowed" under the Oregon Revised Statutes authorizing commissioners "to discuss with legal counsel the rights and duties of the commission with regard to current or likely litigation."
"I thought it was entirely appropriate, since nothing was done that was against the law," said Ponsford, who is the subject of a recall election scheduled for Oct. 10. "The complaining commissioner was upset because she ended up the focal point of the discussion in the executive session, but it wasn't out of line according to the state."
He continued, "I'm tired of the fight. It needs to stop; we have county business to do."
Regardless of the outcome of the recall, which is expected to cost the county up to $8,000, Ponsford, a Democrat, will face Republican John Hatfield in the November election.