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April 09, 2008
Would You Answer These Questions?
CLATSKANIE, Oregon (STPNS) -- Editorial Comments
Suppose you had agreed to volunteer many hours every month to making difficult and sometimes controversial decisions that caused you to be stopped in the grocery store aisles, receive evening and weekend phone calls from fellow citizens who want to discuss those issues with you or lodge a complaint - not always very civilly.
Suppose you do this because you believe you are being a good citizen, performing a necessary and important service to your community, that you believe in the America?s form of self-governance - that each citizen has the responsibility to be informed, and, if possible, actively involved in the decision-making of a representational democracy.
Imagine then, that after volunteering thousands of hours (in meetings and studying of the issues) over a number of years - even decades - to serve your community without compensation of any kind - other than, perhaps, being well-known and respected in your community (or perhaps having some people inappropriately mad at you), you receive a packet of eight or 10 pages of paperwork from the newly-renamed Oregon Government Ethics Commission (OGEC).
You receive this packet less than two weeks before the report is due, and there is a $10-per-day fine for each of the first 14 days the statement is late and $50 for each day thereafter that passes after the filing deadline date, up to a maximum of $5,000.
Such is the situation with the members of the Clatskanie City Council, the City of Clatskanie Planning Commission, their counterparts in Rainier, and other small cities and boards across Oregon that, up until legislation passed last year, were obligated to abide by the ethics and conflict of interest laws required of all public officials, but were not ordered to submit not only annual, but quarterly reports about their personal finances and their family.
The legislation that revised Oregon?s ethics laws and renamed the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission to the Government Ethics Commission, was described at the time as tightening the rules for legislators - some of whom had been caught accepting - and not properly reporting - such things as trips to Hawaii from lobbyists.
It has only been in recent weeks that small cities, planning and port commissions across the state (school boards and other special district boards are exempted) learned about the requirements for personal information, eventually to be posted on the Internet, and including information about relatives not living with them.
In the wake of small town government boards resigning rather than submit to this invasion of privacy, Governor Ted Kulongoski announced Monday that he has ordered a review. That?s good. But, most news reports about the issue seem to be missing the point that - in Clatskanie, at least - it?s not so much the personal financial details our volunteer councilors are objecting to, it?s the irrelevant information about their relatives that is particularly odious.
I ask you, would you answer all of these questions:
?1. BUSINESS OFFICE OR DIRECTORSHIP; BUSINESS NAME
?A. If you or a member of your household were an officer or director of a business during 2007, please indicate the following: business name, business address, description of business, title of office, held by whom.
?B. Please list the names under which you or members of your household did business during 2007: business name, business address, description of business, title of office, held by whom.
?2. SOURCES OF INCOME: (Be specific as to identification and description of each source.) Identify the five most significant sources of income received by you or a member of your household during the 2007 calendar year. Name of Source, Address of Source, Description of Source, Household Member Who Received.
?3. MEMBERS OF HOUSEHOLD: List the name of each member of the household who is 18 years of age or older.
?4. RELATIVES: List the name of each relative who is 18 years of age or older who is not a member of the household.? The definition of ?relative? in the instructions ?means the spouse or domestic partner of the public official; any children siblings, spouses of siblings or parents of the public official or of the public official?s spouse; any individual for whom the public official has a legal support obligation; or an individual for whom the public official provides benefits arising from the public official?s public employment or from whom the public official receives benefits arising from that individual?s employment.?
?5. ?REAL PROPERTY: List all real property (residential, commercial, vacant land, etc.) in which, during 2007, you or a member of your household had any ownership interest, any option to purchase or sell, or any other right of any kind in real property, including a sales contract, located within the geographical boundaries of the public entity you serve.
?6. SHARED BUSINESS WITH LOBBYIST: List the name of any compensated lobbyist who was associated with a business with which you or a member of your household was also associated during 2007.
?7. VALUE OF OFFICE RELATED EVENT: If during 2007, you participated in any event bearing a relationship to your office and you appeared in your official capacity and the aggregate value of food, lodging and travel provided to you exceeded $157, list the event.?
?8. HONORARIA: If you received honoraria (defined as ?a payment of something of economic value given to a public official in exchange for services, upon which custom or propriety prevents the setting of a price. Services include, but are not limited to, speeches or other services connected with an event where the public official appears in an official capacity.?
?9. DEBT OF $1,000 OR MORE: If you or a member of your household owed a debt of $1,000 or more to a person during 2007, list: (Note: Do not list loans from state or federally regulated financial institutions (banks, etc.) or retail credit accounts and do not list the amounts owed.)
?10. BUSINESS INVESTMENT OF MORE THAN $1,000: If you or a member of your household had a personal, beneficial interest or investment in a business of more than $1,000 during 2007, list.?
The ethics requirements imposed on public officials, including our small city volunteers, also put a strict $50 aggregate gift limit on the officials and their families.
In the question and answer section of the new requirements the question is asked if the child of a public official covered under the new law is invited to attend a movie with a classmate, whose parents may have ?a special interest? in the city, the child ?could not accept the movie tickets, but could accept gifts of food and drink while at the movies. Please keep in mind that the $50 aggregate gift limit EXTENDS TO YOUR FAMILY AS WELL. For example, if your daughter accepts $15 from her friend's parents, the amount her parents could provide you or a member of your household would be reduced to $35 for the next 12 months.?
?So, not only does this gift limit impact the office holder, but that office holder is going to have to keep track of activities of their children and the children will have to be limited to not accepting movie tickets or anything else of value. It will have to be recorded and reported. This can only produce much confusion and increase the possibility of inadvertent violation,? Clatskanie Mayor Diane Pohl points out.
In a recent letter to State Senator Betsy Johnson and State Representative Brad Witt, Clatskanie City Councilor Kathy Engel wrote: ?I am having a very hard time trying to understand why the names of my siblings and their spouses in Seattle, Portland, Springfield and Eugene have anything to do with my actions within the boundaries of the City of Clatskanie. I don?t believe I can take any action in the City of Clatskanie that could even remotely be influenced by, or for the benefit of, my siblings living in those cities. In addition it is my siblings business if they want to put themselves in the position of having their names listed in a public document, and not my right to do so??
We are proud of the local officials for actively calling for review and reform of this overkill which is threatening to decimate the leadership in small cities across the state.
Adding insult to injury, the costs of administering and implementing this huge increase in paperwork for the six-member staff of the Oregon Government Ethics Commission will be charged to the cities and other local government bodies required to comply.
Mayor Pohl is circulating the following proposed resolution to fellow small city mayors, and is planning to introduce it, or something very similar to it, for adoption at an upcoming council meeting.
She is also carrying the battle to the League of Oregon Cities, which she believes did not serve their small city members well in not informing them of the content of this legislation in time to point out its problems.
A RESOLUTION SEEKING CHANGES TO ORS 244.050 TO SAVE LOCAL LEADERSHIP
WHEREAS, the 2007 session of the Oregon Legislature passed ORS 244.050, revising ethics reporting requirements for city and local governments; and
WHEREAS, the undersigned consider the changes in ORS 244.050 relating to reporting of the names of family members, listing of personal debt and personal property holdings to be an unreasonable violation of the personal right to Liberty, Right of Privacy and Due Process of Law under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; and
WHEREAS, these invasions of privacy include abrogation of personal and family rights to privacy in order to participate in a constitutionally guaranteed right of the people to represent themselves in government; and
WHEREAS, these violations of privacy are without any corresponding benefit to the public; and
WHEREAS, the unnecessary information required by ORS 244.050 also includes the listing of personal debts and personal property holdings that should only be disclosed in the event of a conflict of interest; and
WHEREAS, the collection of this unnecessary information in ORS 244.050 relating to family members, debts and personal property holdings constitutes an Unreasonable Search of the office holders? private papers and effects in violation of Article 1 Section 9 of the Oregon State Constitution and under the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution relating to Unreasonable Searches of persons papers and effects; and
WHEREAS, it is beyond the scope of the Oregon Government Ethics Commission and is not necessary for the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to properly perform the oversight of elected and appointed leaders; and
WHEREAS, this private information will be displayed on a public Internet site with no protection against misuse; and
WHEREAS, the requirement for quarterly reports from volunteer elected and appointed members of local government council and commissions is unnecessarily onerous, when annual reports would be adequate; and
WHEREAS, the 2008 Annual Verified Statement of Economic Interest for the Calendar Year 2007 was received by local government leaders less than two weeks prior to the deadline; and
WHEREAS, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission is unable to adequately answer questions regarding administration and implementation of ORS 244.050; and
WHEREAS, the funding for the administration and implementation of ORS 244.050 will increase the financial burden on rural cities, counties and port districts; and
WHEREAS, the burden of these new requirements and the invasion of privacy they create has caused numerous, statewide resignations of duly elected and appointed qualified volunteer leaders; and
WHEREAS, more resignations are expected if these requirements are not removed; and
WHEREAS, these rules will create a vacuum in leadership for Oregon?s rural communities, making it extremely difficult to retain and recruit qualified volunteers to serve in public positions that are crucial to the operation of our small cities, counties and port districts.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City of Clatskanie hereby requests that the reporting requirements of ORS 244.050 be suspended until such time as the Oregon Legislature reviews, hears testimony from entities drastically affected and takes action to amend the above described unacceptable requirements.
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