Mayor's spokesman hit with complaint about press release

Mayor Charlie Hales’ spokesman Dana Haynes has been fined twice for illegally campaigning on public time.

Despite that, the Oregon secretary of state’s office is only fining Haynes $150, the maximum allowed for second offenses on the penalty matrix the office follows. Haynes’ previous fine, imposed in 2009, was just $75.

Even the maximum $250 fine is well below those allowed for other elections offenses. For example, fines for violating laws governing initiative and other petitions can be as high as $10,000 for each incident.

The fine resulted from an elections complaint filed by the chief co-petitioners of the proposed Portland public water district. It charged that Haynes wrote and distributed a press release on public time during the campaign that advocated against the measure, which was ultimately defeated at the May 20 primary election.

Co-chief petitioner Kent Craford calls the fine 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, who filed the elections complaint with co-chief petitioner Floy Jones, a self-appointed water watchdog.

Tony Green, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kate Brown, says her office is considering reviewing all of the penalty amounts. Although such a review is not yet scheduled, Green says it would likely occur in an off-election year.

‘Not impartial

Haynes was notified of the most recent fine in a July 10 letter from Alana Cox, a compliance specialist in the elections division of the secretary of state’s office. It said he violated the law by writing and releasing a press release from the mayor’s office that criticized Measure 26-156 after it had qualified for the primary election ballot.

The criticism was included in a quote attributed to Hales that was drafted by Haynes and approved by Hales. It called the backers of measure “anti-environmental” and said the measure was an attack on the city’s green programs. That theme was used by the measure’s opponents throughout the campaign.

“Read as a whole, the portion of the release related to the measure demonstrates clear opposition to the measure and is therefore not impartial,” according to Cox’s letter.

Most of the Feb. 11 press release concern the ongoing lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court about whether the City Council has misspent water and sewer ratepayer funds.

Haynes has 45 days since July 10 to appeal the fine.

Elections officials dismissed a second complaint against a different employee in the Mayor’s Office filed by Craford and Jones. In another July 10 letter, Cox said Josh Alpert, a policy adviser, did not break the law by speaking against the measure at a morning meeting that ended before the start of his work day. Alpert told investigators that begins at 9 a.m.

Previous fines

Five years ago, election officials ruled that Haynes violated the same law while he was employed as a public information officer at Portland Community College. In 2008, Haynes posted information about PCC’s pending $374 million capital construction ballot measure on the college’s official website. Elections officials ruled the information advocated passage of the measure.

At the time, Haynes was working under Kristin Watkins, the director of college advancement. She was fined $100. The two fines were issued the year after the measure passed.

The previous complaint was filed by Glen Comuntzis, a part-time PCC instructor.

Haynes is well-liked by most reporters who cover City Hall. A successful novelist, he is not as defensive about his boss as some previous press aides in the mayor’s office. For example, during the discussions on the street fee proposed by Hales and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick, Hales freely admitted that most of the feedback has been critical and that many Portlanders hate the idea. Some reporters have speculated that Haynes’ candor suggests he is not interested in a long public service career, but is gathering anecdotes for another novel. Others say Haynes has always been interested in politics.

It’s not unusual for public employees to be accused of illegally supporting or opposing measures during heated heated campaigns. Few are ever fined, however. Another exception occurred in 2011 when eight Portland Public Schools employees were fined $75 each for working on flyer that advocated passage of bond measure. The included Superintendent Carole Smith.

More recently, Tigard Mayor John Cook was accused of

illegally using a city newsletter to oppose a ballot measure limiting light-rail construction by some of its supporters. Nothing came of the complaint.

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