Whether it passes or fails, a Marion County citizen initiative which got on the May ballot after almost 6,000 citizens signed petitions to improve county government, has served one important purpose:
We've learned how far the existing power structure in Marion County is willing to stretch ethical bounds in order to keep the political system running along in its dysfunctional special-interest-favoring way.
A few weeks ago a neighbor gave me a "No on Measure 24-292" letter that had been sent out by two Salem Chamber of Commerce bigwigs: CEO Mike McLaran and board member Dick Withnell, who owns several car dealerships.
It was filled with untruths, which I debunked in this post. Withnell followed up with an equally deceptive opinion piece that was published in the Statesman Journal (which gets big bucks from Withnell's frequent and large ad buys.)
Now, a letter from Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau arrived in our mailbox yesterday.
Which must be the offices of the Marion County DA, right? Wrong.
That's the address of the Salem Chamber of Commerce. I guess this is who the Marion County District Attorney is working for these days, rather than the citizens who elected him.
Funny thing, though: Walt Beglau doesn't mention the Chamber of Commerce at all in his letter.
Download Walt Beglau letter
Nor does he say that anyone other than himself is responsible for the letter. Someone has to fire up Google and type in "1110 Commercial St SE, Salem" to learn that the Chamber of Commerce is behind it. And almost surely paid for the mailing.
Which, we're told way down at the bottom: "(not paid for at taxpayer expense)" However, we're not told who did pay for it -- which seems like a legal oversight to me. But, hey, what do I know?
I'm not a lawyer. Or the District Attorney.
Who I'd call up tomorrow and ask about the legality of the political mailing, if it wasn't the DA whose name is on the letter.
(Well, I might give Beglau's office a call anyway, if only to see whether they're still at their county phone number, or whether everybody in addition to Beglau has moved over to the Chamber of Commerce.)
Given the deceptive nature of this letter, not surprisingly the contents are equally truth-deprived.
(1) Beglau says Measure 24-292 fragments our community into five politically driven districts. But those districts will elect non-partisan county commissioners. And both Salem city councilors and Marion County's state representatives already are elected by district. I haven't heard anyone complaining about that fragmentation.
(2) Beglau says the estimated cost to expand the Board of Commissioners from three to five members, add staff, and hold a special election will cost $500,000. But the estimate of the Measure sponsors actually is that it will save almost $272,000. And no special election needs to be held. Beglau isn't telling the truth.
(3) Beglau says that the $500,000 (which isn't an actual expense) will come from the public safety budget. Another deception. The current county commissioners were the ones who eliminated 14 full time employees in the Sheriff's Office, without cutting their own staff. Measure 24-292 has no impact on public safety. Again, it will save taxpayers money according to the sponsors of the Measure.
So where is Walt Beglau getting his erroneous information? Apparently from his current work place: 1110 Commercial Street, the Salem Chamber of Commerce.
Question: why is the Marion County District Attorney writing political letters for the Salem Chamber of Commerce? Doesn't he represent all of the citizens of the county, not just big business interests, like Dick Withnell's?
On the home page of the DA's web site, I found this quote from Walt Beglau:
"I believe that everyone should be held accountable. Justice must always be public, accessible and fair. Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect."
OK. We need to hold Beglau accountable.
Join me in calling him at 503-588-5222. Ask if Walt Beglau is back from his stint at the Salem Chamber of Commerce.
If so, speak with him about the ethics and legality of the county District Attorney sending out a political letter that doesn't identify who paid for it, or sponsored it, and is filled with untruths.
Maybe Beglau will open an investigation into himself.