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Urban-renewal fight to set the record straight

Oregon City commercial landlord Rob Crocker chastises me in his rant against urban-renewal voter-rights ballot Measure 3-407 (“Don’t tolerate attacks on public servants,” Sept. 5), for supposed “personal attacks” against Mayor Neeley and City Manager Frasher. In so doing, Crocker recites numerous inaccuracies and misleads readers.

(Crocker also fails to inform readers that from 2008 to 2012 his enterprise “T-5 Equities” received more than $145,000 of urban renewal largesse with another $55,000 pending, some of it doled out while Crocker himself served on the urban-renewal board). Fairness demands pointing out Crocker’s errors and falsehoods, prior to focusing (as we should) on Measure 3-407.

In an earlier piece (“Oregon City petition: It’s time to fight City Hall” Aug. 15), I wrote that Mayor Neeley thinks Oregon City residents are too dumb and lazy to vote on urban-renewal bonds. Neeley said as much, in different words, on the record at a City Commission meeting, claiming that in the past there were efforts to have the public vote but that most people don’t understand what they are voting on and would rather leave it to politicians. Repeating what an elected official said hardly qualifies as a “personal attack.”

I also wrote about Frasher’s election-law violations as Grants Pass city manager, for writing memos on city time designed to promote a ballot measure. Crocker claims I failed to mention Frasher’s “complete exoneration.” But Frasher was never “exonerated.” To the contrary, on Feb. 13, 2011, the city of Grants Pass issued a press release announcing Frasher’s loss of his appeal from a finding of violations, stating: “In regards to two internal Council Memorandums, City Manager Laurel Samson and previous City Manager David Frasher were both found guilty of promoting the measure and were ordered to pay fines of $75 each.” Frasher’s fine was reduced on that appeal from what was originally imposed, but his guilt of the election-law violations was affirmed. That was the end of the case. The release went on to say: “The focus of the charge was two internal memos written to the Council that were deemed too positive and did not include ‘negative facts.’”

(City Attorney Ed Sullivan relates two cases in which, on administrative appeal, an administrative law judge of the Elections Division dismissed the cases of two different public employees found guilty of improper ballot measure advocacy. Mr. Sullivan speculates that the same result would have obtained in Mr. Frasher’s case, had Mr. Frasher’s counsel raised the same claim on Mr. Frasher’s administrative appeal.)

I wrote that history seemed to be repeating itself regarding Frasher’s presentation to the Oregon City Commission in which he claimed that Measure 3-407 was “defective and deceptive” and that the city needed to insert an “explanatory statement” into the Voter’s Pamphlet. I stand by that opinion.

The latest intrigue involves the Oregon City Commission candidacy of downtown Oregon City businessman and active Measure 3-407 supporter Michael Berman, a native of Oregon City who filed to run against incumbent Commissioner Carol Pauli. The day Mr. Berman filed, Mr. Dan Fowler accused Mr. Berman of actually living in West Linn, when in truth that has never been so.

Coincidentally (whether merely so is unknown), later that day the city told Mr. Berman he could not run against Pauli, and he had to appear before the City Commission to assert his right to be on the ballot. No prior candidate has ever had to do so. The only commissioner voting against letting Mr. Berman run was Betty Mumm, a vocal opponent of Measure 3-407 (who previously voted to keep the measure off the ballot even though the city attorney told the commission the law mandated its presentation to voters). I suppose Crocker considers my relation of these facts to be “personal attacks,” too. As George Orwell said, “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Crocker’s reference to me as an “activist lawyer” is somewhat flattering but hardly accurate and I’m actually a late convert to the urban-renewal voter-rights effort. I opposed that effort before learning of urban renewal’s abuse-prone nature and its siphoning of money from schools and essential services. A review of many years of Oregon City urban-renewal records reveals many highly questionable transactions. The only way to prevent corruption, waste and abuse is to close the loophole in our City Charter which exempts urban-renewal bonds from the requirement of a public vote on bond issuance.

“Fighting City Hall” is as American as baseball. Speaking of which, you and I are ultimately on the hook for our new urban-renewal-financed City Hall for at least the next 28 years. Rather than turning blight into jobs, such misuse of urban renewal by politicians does neither. So much for urban renewal always “paying for itself.” This is how politicians misuse urban-renewal bonds in order to fund things the people would not approve if they had a say in the matter, as they do with all other kinds of Oregon City bond debt.

Close the loophole. Vote yes on Measure 3-407.

J. Kevin Hunt is a resident of Oregon City and chief petitioner for Measure 3-407.




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