State drops complaints about leaked city memo

A government ethics complaint alleging a Lake Oswego City Council member violated state rules by leaking a memo to the press has been dismissed.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission recently voted to drop the case and forego any additional investigation of the charges, which were filed by Lake Oswego resident Gary Gipson after a clash on the city council earlier this year.

The squabble began when Mayor Kent Studebaker informed the council he planned to replace one interim city manager with another in a memo dated Jan. 14.

Councilor Donna Jordan admitted Jan. 22 that she released a copy of his email to the press because she felt the memo, although labeled “confidential,” didn’t meet standards barring its disclosure to the public.Jordan

“You can put ‘Mary had a little lamb’ and mark it ‘confidential,’” Jordan said Jan. 22. “It doesn’t make it confidential.”

The memo described Studebaker’s plan to end former interim City Manager David Donaldson’s contract and replace him with Tom Coffee. In the memo, Studebaker said the council could only discuss the topic out of the public eye if dealing with Donaldson’s employment; Coffee’s hiring would have to be deliberated in the open.

Gipson said he lodged his complaint with the state because the memo was intended for an executive session. Even though the council did not end up discussing the city manager issue behind closed doors — it voted publicly to hire Coffee as interim city manager, returning Donaldson to his former position of assistant city manager — the email should have been kept confidential until the mayor, city attorney or city council as a whole decided to disclose it to the public, Gipson said at the time.

But while Gipson only intended for the complaint to put Donna Jordan in the spotlight, it actually subjected all six city councilors and the mayor to state scrutiny.

The state commission voted to dismiss the complaints against all seven at a meeting on May 31. According to the commission, the dismissal was listed among items on an executive session consent calendar, and the vote to approve those items was unanimous.

Gipson said he does not intend to resubmit the complaint, in part because he feels the city council has “formed a successful working relationship which will be beneficial to our community.”

“As long as this spirit of cooperation continues and mutual respect maintained, there would be nothing gained by re-examining the matter,” he said.

Jordan said while citizens have a right to file inquiries about elected officials’ actions, the “information in this case was all wrong to begin with and the allegations had no merit.”

She said it was “unfortunate” that such allegations can create suspicion and fuel political discord in the community.

“Filing an ethics charge against a public official is a serious matter,” she added. “Even a preliminary investigation takes time and spends tax dollars. ... When these efforts are wasted on frivolous charges, everyone loses.”

Oregon’s government ethics laws forbid public officials from using their positions for personal financial gain and require public disclosure of potential or actual economic conflicts of interest. The ethics commission also enforces executive session provisions of the state’s public meetings law.

It’s made up of seven volunteers appointed by the governor to four-year terms. Director Ron Bersin administers the commission, which typically also employs two investigators, two trainers, a program analyst and two office support staffers, according to its website.

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