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Oregon State Elections Division investigating complaint against West Linn neighborhood
by Kimberly West - The Oregon Herald Oregon Herald senior reporter
  Thursday December 10, 2009 - 1:35 PM
 
The Secretary of State Elections Division is investigating whether a West Linn neighborhood association president broke any rules by circulating e-mails in support of an ongoing recall campaign.Hidden Springs Neighborhood Association President Lynn Fox is accused of abusing her position by promoting the recall of council president Jody Carson and councilors John Kovash and Scott Burgess. She didn’t respond to a request for comment.The investigation stems from a complaint filed by another neighborhood association president, Dean Suhr of Rosemont Summit.

He believes Fox “misbehaved” not only by promoting the recall to Hidden Springs residents, but also by “attempting to influence” other neighborhood association presidents, and through them, the residents of other neighborhoods.“She asked people to go to the organizing meeting for the recall election and, subsequent to that, asked people to pick up petitions and carry them out to get the recall issue on the ballot,” Suhr said during an interview last week.In his written complaint, Suhr points to an October e-mail Fox forwarded to her membership list from recall organizers as one violation of state elections law.“Even though her e-mail introduction said she was forwarding ‘in the interest of providing public information as requested by members of of [sic] HSNA’, this message was soliciting, promoting, and politicing for a recall,” Suhr wrote.Fox forwarded another message in November to Hidden Springs residents and others on her mailing list, including Suhr.

The e-mail said recipients “had contacted Mary Ann (Mattecheck) and her recall team expressing your interest in possibly gathering signatures for the recall effort” and said petitions were available for circulation.Suhr feels it was the equivalent of political junk mail using contact information meant to help the neighborhood fulfill its city-sponsored duties. The case centers on whether a neighborhood association president is a “public employee,” prohibited by state law from advocating for or against political candidates or causes while on the clock.According to past interpretations of West Linn’s policies — which the Secretary of State Elections Division upheld last summer — the city’s NA presidents fit that definition.West Linn’s 11 neighborhood associations, considered arms of the city, are listed under a subsection of city code about advisory groups and commissions.

Receiving $1,500 stipends each year, they’re charged with funneling information from city hall to neighborhood residents and vice versa.Last year, a group of neighborhood officers including Fox filed a complaint against the city, challenging the idea that they couldn’t endorse political candidates using their neighborhood titles.At the time, elections officials said the outcome would likely depend on whether the groups performed city functions or received public funds — and whether they were acting in advisory capacity or using public resources when restrictions were imposed.In the end, the state sided with the city. Carla Corbin, a compliance specialist with the state, noted the functions and funding of West Linn’s neighborhood associations in a letter June 4.She said the city had determined neighborhood associations, as advisory committees that receive some public funding, are subject to restrictions on political advocacy.“Whether it is appropriate for the city to set some policy for the (NAs) is not an election law determination for this office to make,” she wrote.Suhr said he hopes to hear a similar conclusion following the recent round of Hidden Springs e-mails.

The state doesn’t set timelines for responses to election complaints.In Suhr’s opinion, neighborhood association leaders should remain neutral on political issues.“That doesn’t mean we don’t address political issues; it just means we need to be neutral about them,” he said.

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