Oregon City is revising its policies regarding official publications as the Secretary of States Office investigates the citys alleged violation of Oregon election law by discouraging citizens from signing an urban-renewal petition.
Mayor Dan Holladays opinion piece published in the Autumn 2015 Trail News, a publication providing citizens information on most city departments, told every household in the city that a petition to kill urban renewal would have a very chilling effect on economic development not just in the downtown urban renewal district, but throughout the city.
After the state received a complaint on Aug. 25 from petitioners, Holladay said he made a mistake by submitting the piece for the Trail News.
State law (ORS 260.432) says that elected officials shouldnt publish letters advocating a political position in a newsletter or other publication produced and distributed by public employees. Oregon Citys mayor has for years submitted a piece to the City Matters column on page 2 of the citys Trail News publication.
John Williams and fellow petitioners began collecting signatures in June on a proposed city-charter amendment that would prohibit the use of tax-increment financing for purchasing land and for the development of privately owned land through public urban-renewal funds (Petition targets OC urban renewal, July 15).
Williams said he wouldnt have been surprised by Holladays public opposition to the ballot measure. But Williams said that Holladay doubly misstepped by submitting the argument for a city publication before the measure had even gotten enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
He has the right to express his opinion, but he shouldnt be using citizens taxpayer dollars to try to put a halt to a democratic process, Williams said. Signing the petition in question will not put a halt to these programs and many others as he claims, but only put an issue on the ballot for citizens to debate.
Holladay acknowledged that there was a problem in the city not reviewing his City Matters piece.
Were putting in place a rock-solid policy now that it gets reviewed for compliance with state elections law by City Recorder Kattie Riggs, who is our elections official, and if she has questions, it would go to the Secretary of States Office for review, Holladay said.
Williams saw the Trail News mishap as a part of a larger problem with the citys increasingly combative relationship with neighborhood associations.
The citizens are being left out of the process, and it seems like we need to put the citizens back in charge of the process, and the only way we can do that is to have an election, but the mayor doesnt seem to want to have one because some facts might be revealed that he doesnt want public, Williams said.
Holladay said that he wont back down from his opinion that urban renewal programs will be essential in mitigating the effects of decades of submersed garbage at Rossman Landfill.
In the Trail News article, Holladay wrote, I would encourage you not to sign this petition if you like the progress that you see throughout downtown Oregon City. You should also be wary of the petition if you would like to see the return of a project like the former Rivers/Cabelas at the old landfill site near Home Depot.
Williams doubted that the ill effects of the Trail News piece would ever be undone.
He should issue a public apology or it would be appropriate for the city to give us equal space in the Trail News to counter his argument, but I dont think that the Secretary of States Office has the power to mandate that, Williams said.
Reflecting on the piece, Holladay said, While we screwed up by putting it into the Trail News, that doesnt change how I feel about the petition, and the only thing I would have changed was submitting it instead as a letter to the editor.
The Oregon Secretary of States Office has typically issued fines of a few hundred dollars when it finds a violation of election law, but Williams would consider this a slap on the wrist. The Secretary of States Office told the Oregon City News that it has no timeline for its investigation and potential disciplinary actions, although Holladay was given until Sept. 8 to respond to its inquiries.
Our inquiry into this matter does not mean we have determined any provisions of Oregon election law have been violated, wrote Alana Cox, legal investigator for the Secretary of State last week.
Holladay said that he would be submitting his official response to Cox before Labor Day weekend, and possibly even sooner this week.