In mid-December I wrote about two members of the Salem City Council and the Mayor having been accused of a conflict of interest cover-up. Jim Randall, Dan Clem, and Janet Taylor didn’t report receiving contributions from William Colson, a local developer, before hearing testimony on changes to the city’s annexation code that would benefit a Colson project.
Today the Statesman-Journal reported that the city’s Board of Ethics found that Randall and Clem did indeed violate Salem’s ethics laws. Taylor got off only because mayors are required to disclose contributions received in the past two years, whereas for councilors it is four years.
Unfortunately, the Board of Ethics is going to allow Randall and Clem to vote on the annexation code changes that were discussed at the public hearing where they violated the ethics law. Says the Statesman-Journal, “The four board members found that the contributions do not create a reasonable appearance of bias or impropriety.”
Is it any wonder that people have so little confidence either in public officials or in the governmental “watch dogs” that have so little teeth, and barely a bark? Randall got $6,000 from Colson and Clem got $2,000. I think they’d remember such sizable contributions when the Colson-benefiting proposal came up for a hearing.
The chair of the Board of Ethics, Robert Winningham, said, “I don't assume the councilors are going to be bought for $501” (the minimum amount needed to be reported). Well, that’s debatable. Politicians have been bought for less, I strongly suspect. And this was $6,000 and $2,000, not $501, a fact conveniently ignored by Winningham.
So, the beat goes on. Money buys influence, and politicians try to hide how they are being bought. We’re fortunate that Oregon is as clean a state as it is, but stories like this one make me think that there is more dirty laundry in our political hamper than we’d ever suspect.