TALENT — Oregon's Government Ethics Commission has voted to drop an investigation into allegations that City Manager Tom Corrigan improperly benefited when city workers installed panels on the side of a personal trailer he was using to haul trees to a city nursery.
Commissioners voted 5-1 in Salem Friday to drop the case despite a staff recommendation to move to investigation.
Joe Strahl, who oversees city engineering under a contract, filed the complaint on April 8. Public Works Superintendent Lester Naught and employees Bret Marshall and Chance Metcalf also signed the complaint. "I wished they had gone forward," Strahl said Monday. "I'm disappointed. I think a lot of misinformation that was out there could have been resolved by doing an investigation."
Corrigan and attorney Lauren Sommers of the Local Government Law Group, which represents the city, attended the session in Salem. The Talent City Council had earlier agreed to supply legal counsel for Corrigan in the matter. "I would compliment the ethics commission on their work," said Corrigan. "It is a very difficult job. They are very diligent in their pursuits. I appreciate the job they have to do and the conclusion that they reached."
Commissioners felt they had enough information to decide against going forward, said commission Executive Director Ron Bersin. The meeting was a closed executive session and Bersin would not discuss the reasoning behind the commission's action.
"There are times that the staff here will recommend to move (an investigation) forward. We may want to know more information," said Bersin. "I believe (the commissioners) got all the information they needed to get their decision."
The complaint alleged that Corrigan benefited financially when wooden panels were fitted to his trailer by Metcalf and Marshall. Corrigan was bringing trees on the trailer from his property in Sams Valley to a tree nursery established by the city's Together for Talent Committee.
Corrigan paid for the panels, but Metcalf and Marshall spent an estimated 51/2 hours on procurement and installation in late February.
According to information cited in a staff report:
- Corrigan donated more than 100 trees to the project. Larger ones that had to be hauled on the trailer about 40 miles arrived wind-buffeted and defoliated.
- City staff recommended the panels and offered to install them using scrap metal brackets, the report notes. The brackets have been returned to the city.
- When contacted by the ethics commission in mid-April, both Metcalf and Marshall indicated they felt pressured to sign the complaint and, given more time for consideration, might not have signed. They felt Strahl had a "personal vendetta" against Corrigan.
The employees also said the work was performed to protect the trees while in transit.
But Strahl said he did not regret pursuing the case. "I had to do what I did. I did the right thing. My obligation to the city of Talent and those employees is satisfied," said Strahl. "It was up to the commission and they chose not to pursue it further."
Strahl's complaint also indicated that Corrigan advised Strahl during a meeting before the installation that he was "the sole person in charge at the city and that his authority was not to be questioned."
Corrigan would not discuss specifics in the report. Strahl had not seen the report and also declined to talk further about details. Naught declined to comment on the commission ruling.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.