Official Accused of Ethics Violation

Article excerpt

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

A former congressman and co-founder of the Emerald People's Utility District has submitted an ethics complaint against the utility's general manager alleging violations of Oregon's open meetings law and other violations, but the state has no plans to investigate the claims.

The complaint against Frank Lambe was sent on Jan. 25 to the state Government Ethics Commission, but that agency won't conduct even a preliminary investigation, its director said.

Jim Weaver, who served as the 4th District's representative in Congress from 1975 to 1987, and who was on the committee that founded EPUD in the mid-1970s, filed the complaint along with Pamela Hewitt, who served as the utility's power resource manager for less than a year in 2009 and 2010 before being fired by Lambe.

The two allege that Lambe failed to give proper public notice of private, closed sessions that the board held, and that such sessions occasionally covered topics not allowed by the state's open meetings laws to be discussed in secret.

Failing to let the public know about such meetings and covering topics that by law can not be considered in executive sessions violated the public trust, Weaver said.

EPUD spokeswoman Hillary McBride hadn't seen the complaint on Thursday and couldn't comment on the specific allegations, but said the utility is committed to involving its customers in its decisions and encourages attendance at its meetings.

"We always try to keep everything transparent and open to the public, and we're trying to improve that process," McBride said.

EPUD was criticized last year for holding regular board meetings at restaurants outside the district's geographical boundaries and for failing to keep adequate minutes of those meetings.

That criticism led the board to change its policy and meet only at the utility's headquarters south of Glenwood. The board also met with the utility's attorney, who clarified for the board public meeting laws and record-keeping requirements.

Among the examples Weaver and Hew itt gave: The utility regularly fails to cite a legitimate exemption under state law that allows a public agency to hold a closed - or executive - session, and sometimes fails to identify on the agenda the topic to be discussed in the closed session.

State law allows executive sessions to discuss a narrow range of subjects such as labor negotiations, the general manager's performance evaluation, some real estate transactions and contract negotiations. The law requires public boards to cite the specific exemption in order to hold the closed meeting legally.

A couple of the complaints date back to 2008 and concern executive sessions on topics not covered by legal exemptions.

For example, board minutes show that on Dec. 9, 2008, the board discussed "board policy and a potential board retreat" in a nonpublic session - topics that must be discussed in public.

Weaver and Hewitt note examples from the past year of such lapses. In fact, the utility's agenda for its Feb. 8 board meeting lists a nonexistent law - ORS 192.600 - in its notice saying it may hold an executive session.

Weaver and Hewitt also raised questions about Lambe's efforts and the board's involvement in an unsuccessful attempt to have board member Patti Chappel's home annexed into the district. …