Ethics laws burdensome for officials

Every member of the Elgin Planning Commission recently resigned rather than comply with new state ethics laws requiring them to disclose financial information. Ashland officials do not anticipate a ripple effect occurring here.

Ashland City Recorder Barbara Christensen said she was rather shocked by the bold move in Elgin, a small town east of Pendleton, because the changes were not much different from previous law.

State law requires municipal court judges, elected officials, city administrators and planning commissioners, as well as relatives or members of their households, to report where income above $1,000 comes from. The forms do not request an actual dollar amount.

Christensen said the forms requested the same information in previous years. The only significant differences are the dollar amounts of gifts, what constitutes a gift and the number of times the forms have to be submitted, she said.

The yearly gift amount from a "single source" with a legislative or administrative interest decreased from $100 to $50. The new law also says public officials are no longer able to accept any gifts of entertainment from a person with legislative or administrative interest, unless it's incidental to an event. The general trip expense exception to gift limits was also eliminated.

The 2007 amendments require public officials to submit a Statement of Economic Interest annually and a Public Official Disclosure four times a year to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.

Ashland Planning Commission Chair John Stromberg said it was a good idea to clean up and better define the ethics laws, but said the quarterly filing did seem burdensome.

"I think things like that may sound good to regulators," said Stromberg. "But it seems excessive, especially for planning commissioners who volunteer."

He said he hadn't heard whether the other commissioners thought the new ethics laws were a problem.

"But I'm staying. And I expect they would, too," said Stromberg.

Commissioner Mike Morris, an independent contractor, also said he would remain on the planning board.

"I doubt that this will have any effect on me," he said.

City Councilor Eric Navickas said he supported the ethics laws, but that the quarterly filing would be an annoyance.

"I do think it's important to look at ways to keep business money out of politics," he said. "Demanding disclosure is a good element of democracy."

Scott Winkels, a representative with the League of Oregon Cities, said many of his members have expressed "angst" over having to file the same information several times a year.

Winkels also said some of the amendments to the laws are being challenged in the Marion County court system.

"There's still a lot to be decided before it gets implemented," he said. "Many Capitol observers say that, regardless of what happens in Marion County, this will probably end up in the Supreme Court."

The first round of forms is due April 15, but Christensen said she hasn't received them yet.

Ron Bersin, executive director of the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, said the new law added about 97 additional cities to his normal mailing list.

"We had to develop contacts for those cities and compile a new mailing list, which has slowed down our process a bit," he said. "But everyone should have the forms by April 1. That will give everyone two solid weeks to get them filled out."

Reach reporter at 482-3456 x226 or .

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