<BR> Porfily found guilty of violating state ethics law
- Bill Sheehy
- Central Oregonian - News
In its findings, the state ethics commission found Porfily guilty of numerous ethics violations while dismissing complaints against Commissioner McCabe
During its monthly meeting last week, the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission brought a preliminary finding against former county Commissioner Frank Porfily and dismissed a complaint against Commissioner Mike McCabe.
The original complaint against Porfily was filed by the man who was elected to replace Porfily on the County Court, Commissioner Jerry Crafton. Last summer, during a period of acrimonious activity, Porfily, a member of the airport commission, wrote a letter asking for an investigation into possible irregularities of Commissioners Crafton and McCabe.
In the final GSPC order on the Crafton case, the investigation found that a procedural violation occurred, rather than an intentional one. The only real issue, the final GSPC order stated, was with the procedural violation that "occurred based on the guidance of counsel."
The investigation into the complaint against McCabe took a little longer to decide. Acting as a member of the county's Airport Commission, Porfily's complaint talked about the possibility of McCabe's action at a meeting of that body.
At the meeting, McCabe, stating he was putting on his "farmer's hat," asked the airport commission to approve a permit to allow an ag spraying company to operate at the airport. The airport commission's concern that it would be held accountable for any contamination spills was unfounded, McCabe said, adding that if the case arose the state would certainly go after the county not the airport.
Based on its investigation, Hearn said that no official action had been taken by McCabe's remarks and dismissed the violation charge.
McCabe said he sees a need for the ethics commission, but the entire process, he felt, was "emotionally damaging. Maybe there needs to be some controls on it (the commission) to speed up the process, It need not take a year. It's frustrating and pretty demoralizing," he added wearily.
The complaint against Porfily turned out slightly different. Following a lengthy investigation, the ethics Commission decided that Porfily had violated state law by voting to approve payment of $25,000 to the two companies he either owns or has a controlling interest in. The incidents involved 24 separate occasions and on each occasion, Porfily failed to publicly declare an actual conflict of interest.
GSPC investigators found that the list of violations against Porfily reportedly occurred between Jan. 1995 though Dec. 1998, when he was a county commissioner. As now, he was also the president and majority owner of a local trucking company, Owens Freight Lines, Inc. During that time he was also a full partner with SMAF Construction. Both businesses provided services to Crook County.
Pat Hearn, executive director of GSPC, explained that with that decision, the case would now be turned over to a Marion County Circuit Court, or be taken as a contested hearing before the ethics commission or end up with a negotiated settlement. If found guilty in a circuit court, Hearn said, the maximum penalty that Porfily would face would be a fine of as much as $1,000 for each of 48 violations. Additionally, he could forfeit twice the amount of actual financial gain. That amount, Hearn said, has not been determined.
Greg Lynch, the attorney representing Porfily, said he doesn't believe the fines will be much ... about $100 per violation.
"What Frank did is no different than what the other commissioners have done for years, clear back to Hoppes, when approving bills. Every time it was done properly, the bills for Frank's contracts were done appropriately. The bills would be in a long list of payables. (County Judge) Fred (Rodgers) did it - Mike (McCabe) did it - all had reimbursements nd voted on them."
Lynch said he has worked out a stipulation that will result in a minimal fine for his client. "And we've asked the county to indemnify Frank."
County Judge Scott Cooper, said he has been approached with the idea of having the county look at possibly paying a share of any fine that Porfily may face, but added that its not likely.
"We (the county court) have not discussed this, but each of us have been presented with a proposal by Porfily's attorney," Cooper said. The proposal presented to Cooper, he went on to explain, was that if Porfily has to pay a fine, he could bring a counter lawsuit against all members of the court during that period of time.
Cooper said the counter suit would be based on reimbursements made to the various commissioners and Judge Fred Rodgers. "Personal reimbursements, for mileage or expenses when doing county business, are not the same as contractual payments," Cooper said.
However, until the entire matter is settled, its all "up in the air. Right now we have no plan to pay any of Frank's fines."
Anybody can come before the court, Cooper concluded, and be heard. "We'll accept input no matter how hair-brained."
The next step in the process, according to GSPC's Hearn is for negotiations be begin between his office and Porfily's attorney.