State rejects Talent request for declaration that 2 employees did not violate elections law

TALENT — The Oregon Secretary of State's Elections Division has rejected a request from city officials for a declaration that two city employees did not violate elections law.

Carla Corbin, a complaint specialist with the Elections Division, wrote in an Jan. 3 letter that she is "unable to honor" the Dec. 21 request. Then-Mayor Don Steyskal said he asked for the statement to protect the reputation of the city and its staff.

City Manager Jay Henry, who also is city recorder, and Assistant City Recorder Suzanne Heinrich had been accused of an elections-law violation. Following an investigation, Corbin closed the case in November and declared there was insufficient evidence to say the pair had violated state law when they prepared questions for a mayoral candidates forum. But she said the action was a matter of concern and should be avoided in the future.

The Talent City Council in December directed Steyskal to send the appeal letter.

"Stating this was a concern, rather than issuing an order imposing a penalty, was and is a caution," Corbin wrote in the January response. "I did not order a penalty assessed because this action was insufficient in itself to justify a penalty. However, the action is sufficiently serious to warn against future action beyond the scope of 'normal job duties.' "

Diane Glendenning, then a candidate and now on the City Council, filed the complaint after the Oct. 12 forum. Darby Stricker, a candidate for mayor, later filed a similar complaint with the division.

"The Secretary of State's Office found no violation," said Henry. "They did take a stern stand as far as informing the city that they were very earnest regarding elections violations, but that is their job and I would expect that response is common from them."

City officials were asked by the League of Women Voters to facilitate the candidate forum and to compose the questions, said Henry. Mayoral candidates Bill Cecil and Stricker both participated in the event. Cecil won the election with 51.3 percent of the vote.

"I think that it is evident that Diane as a council member knows how to read Oregon Revised Statutes," said Stricker. "She stood up on behalf of the voters in that the city manager is warned."

Heinrich said Stricker sent her an e-mail after the forum saying the questions were well done by staff and that Stricker appreciated the opportunity to participate.

"I'm surprised that we are still dealing with this," said Heinrich. "Months ago we arranged a candidates forum, and it was for the benefit of all candidates and Talent's citizens."

"Obviously, it's a difference of opinion," said Cecil. "I'm sure the city will consider that (response) as we go into the future as to how we do those things."

The case would become part of the record if another election-law complaint is filed against the city in the next four years, Corbin said in the state's response.

Corbin has the authority to issue penalties, said Andrea Cantu-Schmous, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State's Office. Penalty for a first violation would be $75. The city would have a right of appeal if there were a violation.

"We were very careful to begin with," said Henry. "The city attorney felt there was no violation of the law. The secretary of state said there was no violation. We will continue doing our very best for the city."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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