I always feel like applauding a watchdog group that barks noisily when our so-called “public servants” are engaging in some shenanigans. So I will: clap, clap, clap to Friends of Marion County and their hard-working president, Roger Kaye, for catching the Salem City Council in what appears to be a conflict of interest cover-up.
Yesterday the Statesman-Journal reported that revisions to Salem’s annexation rules would be put on hold until January as a result of Roger’s efforts. Some background: In 2000 Salemites voted to approve annexations of land into the city. Presently city rules require that developers tell people how they plan to use the property that they want to have annexed.
This makes sense. Before voting on whether to bring a parcel into the city, wouldn’t you want to know what was going to be done with it? An ugly commercial strip mall is one thing; a creatively designed sustainable community is quite another thing.
However, now that more conservative city council members have replaced the progressive Mayor Swaim-era councilors, common sense is giving way to corporate interests. The council has been considering making changes to the annexation rules that would much reduce the information given to voters about a proposed development.
That’s fine, so long as the changes are made in an aboveboard manner. But Friends of Marion County revealed at a Monday City Council meeting that several councilors, plus Mayor Janet Taylor, have failed to disclose that they received substantial donations from the Colson & Colson Construction Co. which—no big surprise—would benefit from a revision to the annexation rules.
I’ll include a copy of Roger Kaye’s letter to Mayor Taylor and the City Council for the interest of Salem land use junkies. Laurel is a board member of Friends of Marion County and has been following this issue, along with other Measure 37 related matters. The battle is just beginning over whether short-term financial gain or the long-term public interest will be the centerpiece of land use planning in Oregon.
We hope very much for the latter. But this will only happen if elected officials vote to do the right thing, rather than what will bring them the most campaign contributions.
Mayor Janet Taylor and Members of the City Council City of Salem
555 Liberty St., SE
Salem, OR 97301
Dear Mayor Taylor and Members of the City Council:
At the public hearing on December 6, 2004, concerning the City of Salem proposed revisions to Chapter 54 of the Salem City Code on annexations, I observed several representatives of Colson & Colson Construction Co. testify. I witnessed several votes taken by you, Mayor Taylor, and other members of the City Council on April 12, 2004 and December 6, 2004 which I believe constitute violations of Salem's Charter Amendment, Section 62, approved by a vote of the people on May 21, 2002, Ballot Measure 24-78.
Representatives of Colson & Colson Construction Co., Legal Counsel Dorothy Cofield, Melissa LeClerc of Curry Brandaw Architects, and market economist Steve Ferrarini, also testified at the December 6, 2004 hearing on the annexation ordinance.
Section 62 of the City of Salem's Charter, Ethical Standards for Decision-Making, requires an elected official who participates as a decision-maker at any public hearing that is reasonably likely to result in a pecuniary benefit to any person or entity to disclose any direct and indirect campaign contributions given to the elected official that are from one or more persons or representative of one or more persons who participated in the decision-making process.
The official must disclose the contribution on the record at the time of the public hearing if the amount received totals $501.00 in the preceding 2 years for Mayor or 4 years for a councilor. Records show that Mr. William Colson of Colson & Colson Construction Co. and Holiday Retirement Corp. gave $4,000 to Councilor Dan Clem in October 2002, $2000 to Councilor Jim Randall in July 2002 and $600 to Mayor Janet Taylor in July 2002.
Section 62 also provides that no elected or appointed city official shall participate as a decision-maker in any decision that is made at a public hearing and that is reasonably likely to result in a pecuniary benefit to any person or entity, if participation would create the appearance of bias or impropriety in the mind of a reasonable person.
At the April 12, 2004 public hearing, Colson & Colson Construction Co.
and Chemawa Ventures LLC applied for a council initiated annexation which was on the council agenda. Their application was denied. A letter dated March 5, 2004 from Curry Brandaw Architects asks for a council initiated annexation as representatives of Colson & Colson Construction Co. and Chemawa Ventures LLC.
Section 62 of the City Charter provides that "When a reasonable person would conclude that campaign contributions were made or disclosed or waivers granted or withheld in order to manipulate the composition of the voting members of a decision-making body, then the decision-makers shall participate or recuse themselves as necessary to achieve the purpose of public confidence in the high ethical standards for government officials. The basis for their recusal or participation under this subsection shall be disclosed and made a part of the record of the decision."
Whether or not the application was approved or denied, the record clearly shows that Mayor Janet Taylor, Councilor Dan Clem or Councilor Jim Randall did not disclose their campaign contributions made by Mr. William Colson of Colson & Colson Construction Co. at the beginning of either of the hearings on April 12, 2004 or December 6, 2004.
Finally, Section (6) of Chapter 62 of the Salem City Charter states that "Parties to a public hearing decision-making process in this City have an important and substantial right to a decision made in compliance with these ethical standards. A violation of subsections (1), (2)(a) or (4), above, would prejudice the substantial rights of the parties to the proceeding. Any appropriate court, agency, board or commission with jurisdiction to review the decision, when presented with a timely appeal, should rule accordingly."
Friends of Marion County believes that the Salem City Council will decide at the meeting to be held Monday December 13, 2004 to adopt a revised annexation ordinance meant to simplify the process for annexations to favor an approval of property at the Northeast Quadrant/I-5 Interchange for Colson & Colson Construction Co. and Chemawa Ventures LLC.
Your actions, Mayor Janet Taylor, Councilor Dan Clem and Councilor Jim Randall, clearly indicate a violation of ethical standards required by Chapter 62 of the Salem City Charter, approved by a vote of the people on May 21, 2002, Ballot Measure 24-78.
Roger Kaye, President
c: C. Randall Tosh, City Attorney
City of Salem Charter, Section 62
Attachment A: March 5, 2004 letter from Melissa Leclerc, Curry Brandaw Atchitects http://www.cityofsalem.net/~citygov/staff_reports/2004/041204/42g_20040409100458.pdf