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Hoffman faces ethics review

A state commission that oversees government conduct is poised to review a complaint involving Lake Oswego Mayor-elect Jack Hoffman.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission enforces state laws regulating government conduct. The commission investigates complaints about conflicts of interest, meeting violations and abuses of other government rules.

State officials plan to review a complaint filed by Lake Oswego resident Marilyn Helm Nov. 20.

The complaint contends Hoffman violated ethics rules during a previous term on the Lake Oswego City Council.

At issue is Hoffman's involvement with the condemnation of a building formerly owned by Safeco Insurance, now the city's West End Building at 4101 Kruse Way, and a city contract with BOORA Architects for community center planning at that building.

The complaint alleges that Safeco Insurance and BOORA Architects were clients of the Dunn Carney Allen Higgins and Tongue LLP at the time of Hoffman's votes.

He is one of approximately 50 lawyers at the Portland-based law firm and is among about 25 partners there.

Oregon law requires elected officials to avoid voting on issues in which they may have a personal or professional interest or to publicly disclose that interest before voting.

'We're going to open up a preliminary review on Mr. Hoffman to see if there is a conflict of interest,' said Ron Bersin, executive director of the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.

The agency's review may take up to 135 days, Bersin said, and will culminate in a report to the seven-member commission.

The commission can then decide to begin a formal investigation or permanently dismiss the ethics complaint.

Hoffman declined to comment on the review because he is traveling in Thailand. Civil strife there has complicated his travel plans but Hoffman said via e-mail he expected to return to Lake Oswego Monday.

He said he has not read the complaint, 'Thus it is difficult for me to respond, especially by e-mail.'

Allegations listed in the complaint originally surfaced during the campaign for mayor of Lake Oswego. Hoffman initially chalked the allegations up to dirty politics.

At the time, he denied that Safeco Insurance is a client of the Dunn Carney law firm, saying the firm sometimes represents Safeco-insured drivers but not the company.

Hoffman acknowledged he voted for a $167,000 contract that gave planning work for Lake Oswego's community center idea to BOORA Architects March 6, 2006.

He said a Dunn Carney employee tasked with comparing the Lake Oswego City Council agendas with a database of the law firm's clients missed the BOORA contract as a potential conflict.

He said the database includes thousands - and potentially tens of thousands - of clients and contacts affiliated with the law firm.

Hoffman later learned that another partner at the law firm represented BOORA Architects in 2005 and again in 2007, he said. He said BOORA Architects was not a client of the law firm at the time of his vote on the contract.

BOORA Architects has nearly doubled its earnings from the city of Lake Oswego since receiving the contract. Total earnings of $313,709 were boosted by three subsequent contract amendments, on which Hoffman did not vote.

Helm, the woman who filed the complaint, said she hope it inspires all city officials - not just Hoffman - to be more transparent in their actions.

The complaint, she said, goes beyond the mayoral election and beyond politics.

'I just think our citizens in the city of Lake Oswego are going to be better served by transparency,' said Helm.

She said city councilors are likely to have conflicts of interest and she does not expect those conflicts to always prompt a councilor to step aside from decision-making.

But she wants elected officials to disclose potential conflicts to the public before they vote on city business.

'That's what should have happened and the fact that (Hoffman) is now going to be mayor makes it even more critical,' she said.