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One Hales' employee fined, another cleared

Oregon elections officials are proposing to fine Mayor Charlie Hales' press spokesman $150 for violating state campaign laws during the fight over the Portland Public Water District ballot measure.

But the Secretary of State's Office has also determined that a second Hales' employee did not violate the law during the same campaign.

Hales' office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a July 10 letter to Hales' press spokesman Dana Haynes, Compliance Specialist Alana Cox said he violated the law against public employees campaigning on public time by writing and releasing an official press release criticizing the measure's backers.

The press release was titled "Mayor Hales, Commissioner Fish comment on water lawsuit," referring to the ongoing civil lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court charging the City Council has misspent water and sewer rate funds. It included a quote from Hales referring to Ballot Measure 26-156, however, which said:

"'The anti-environmental funders behind this suit are also behind a ballot measure to create a new layer of government to run the environmental services and water utilities' Hales said. 'If the facts aren't with you, and the law isn't with you, unlimited corporate money is a wonderful thing. it can be used to attack Portland's environmental investments again and again and again. If you don't like green programs, these are the best attacks money can buy.'"

In her letter, Cox said elections officials determined that quote advocated a position on the measure in violation of the law.

"Read as a whole, the portion of the release related to the measure demonstrates clear opposition to the measure and is therefore not impartial," says the letter, which notes that Haynes had also been fined for a similar offense when he worked at Portland Community College before being hired by Hales.

Haynes has 45 days to appeal the proposed fine.

In a second July 10 letter to Hales' policy director Josh Alpert, Cox said he did not violate the law by speaking against the measure a breakfast meeting. According to the letter, Alpert told elections officials he appeared at the meeting on his personal time as a volunteer for the Stop the Bull Run Takeover Campaign. The letter agreed the meeting happened before the 9:00 a.m. start of Alpert's work day.

In both instances, Haynes and Alpert were following requests from their boss, Hales. Hales asked Haynes to write the press release. Hales also asked Alpert to speak at the breakfast in his absence.

The letters summarize investigations triggered by elections complaints filed by the co-chief petitions of the measure, former lobbyist Kent Craford and water watchdog Floy Jones. They were filed after the measure qualified for the May 20 primary Election ballot, where it was overwhelmingly defeated by Portland voters.

Craford says the proposed $150 fine is meaningless.

"The practical outcome of this slap on the wrist is that City Hall now has a green light to employ taxpayer resources for political purposes, knowing that if caught, all they face is a $150 fine," says Craford.