Accusation against city manager will not be pursued

The city of West Linn received word March 19 that the Oregon Government Ethics Commission will pursue an investigation against the mayor and three city councilors but not the city manager.

A West Linn resident lodged a complaint with the state alleging an ethics violation and naming Councilors Mike Jones, Jenni Tan and Jody Carson, Mayor John Kovash and City Manager Chris Jordan.

The council and Jordan received notice March 13 that they were named in the complaint, which was filed by West Linn resident Karie Oakes. Former Councilor Teri Cummings submitted an attachment to the complaint.

Oakes said she filed the complaint because she thought the city council misused executive sessions to authorize the hiring of an in-house attorney, thus violating public meeting laws.

Along with the complaint from Oakes was an attachment from Cummings that contained a series of newspaper articles and emails regarding the city adding an in-house attorney and a lawsuit filed against city councilors.

There was also a six-page letter from Cummings. In it she speculated the city manager was attempting to gain more power in the city by assuming control of city attorneys, dating back to 2009. The city council has historically overseen city attorneys.

Oakes said she felt compelled to file the ethics complaint in hopes that the councilors and city manager “would learn from it.”

According to a letter from the ethics commission addressed to Jordan: “The issues raised in the complaint do not appear to involve these areas of commission jurisdiction. The commission has taken no action on the submitted material.”

However, the mayor and the other councilors received letters that stated the law requires a preliminary staff review, which is confidential, of the complaint. The review will determine if there is reason to conduct an investigation.

Oakes, along with Cummings, had filed a lawsuit against the city last May over an executive session held March 12, 2012, concerning adding a new in-house attorney position. That complaint listed several alleged meeting violations committed by staff and city council members.

The complaint stated that the council violated Oregon law by reconvening a meeting without public notice or announcement; the exemption under which the council met in executive session was incorrect; and the council misused an executive session to evaluate city goals.

However, the lawsuit went nowhere as Cummings and Oakes did not serve the complaint to the city within the 60-day window set by law.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission received the ethics complaint March 11. The details of the complaint are confidential and include confidential memos from Jordan to the city council.

Complaints stay confidential during a preliminary review phase, which could last up to 135 days. After the preliminary review, the commission will decide whether to move into an investigation or dismiss the complaint. The next scheduled meeting of the commission is July 12, which is when the preliminary review will be considered.

The city received an official request for records from the ethics commission Wednesday.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is made up of seven volunteers appointed by the governor to four-year terms. 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.

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.

According to Wyatt, the city will need to hire outside legal counsel to handle the ethics complaint.

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