Contents of ethics complaint secret
Jefferson County Commissioner Mary Zemke has reportedly filed an ethics complaint against the county's other two commissioners, Chairman Walt Ponsford and Bill Bellamy.
Zemke neither confirmed nor denied that she had filed the complaint, noting, "It's not something I'm making any comments about," but the Government Standards and Practices Commission has begun a preliminary review of the complaint.
Contents of the complaint, filed with the GSPC, are confidential, but the complaint concerns an executive session held June 15 for the board to receive legal counsel on current litigation, or litigation likely to be filed on Ballot Measure 37 claims.
Ballot Measure 37 allows property owners to seek compensation when local or state government passes regulations that reduce the value of their property. In lieu of compensation, the governing body -- in this case the county -- can waive certain regulations passed after the property was acquired.
The executive session was held one day after Ponsford asked Zemke to resign for writing an inflammatory letter to county residents suggesting that, "Officials violating the (Measure 37) law are subject to recall."
He also stated that she had broken Oregon's public meeting law, which prohibits two or more commissioners -- a quorum on a three-person board -- from conferring on issues without public notice. The memos she sent to the other commissioners could be considered gathering information or deliberating on county policy, Ponsford said.
"She has obviously done everything she can to promote the cause of the Measure 37 Committee," Ponsford said. "When you're a commissioner, even when friends come before you, you're absolutely obligated to consider the whole county, not just your friends. That's why I asked her to resign."
In addition to the ethics complaint, Ponsford and Bellamy are the subjects of a recall effort by the Measure 37 Committee, which feels they are exposing the county to liability and standing in the way of the claims.
The audiotaped session on June 15 concerned legal response to Zemke's letter, Bellamy said. Sometime following the session, the original tape disappeared from the desk of the administrative secretary -- considered the keeper of the commission's records.
Bellamy, who believes Zemke took the tape and filed the complaint, commented, "It's absolutely amazing. She was at the same meeting as Walt and I. I did not see anything wrong in the meeting."
Ponsford agreed. "It's silly," he said. "I'm tired of being at war in the commission."
The tape, puportedly of the session, was returned later from the Standards and Practices Commission, with a letter stating that a complaint had been filed July 18.
"Now the tape is totally invalid," said Bellamy, pointing out that it could have been altered. "Nobody can validate the authenticity of the tape."
The irony of the matter, according to Bellamy, is that the commissioners recently voted unanimously to make the administrative secretary, Donna Tollefson, the keeper of the records; commissioners are allowed to request copies of tapes from the record keeper, he said.
Now the complaint is in the hands of the state commission. "The executive director looks at the initial complaint. If he decides he needs more information, then the complainant will provide it, or not. He will decide if it reaches the threshhold required to begin a preliminary review," said Don Crabtree, of Salem, investigator with the Government Standards and Practices Commission.
Crabtree said that during the preliminary review, the state commission will deal with it as a confidential matter. As a result, he could not confirm the identity of the complainant, nor that it was accompanied by the audiotape.
The preliminary review cannot exceed 90 days, Crabtree said, adding, "Once the matter is deliberated on, it becomes a matter of public record."
The state commission will probably consider the issue at its Sept. 29 meeting, according to Crabtree.