REDMOND, OR -- Redmond City Councilor, and candidate for Mayor, Anne Graham may have violated state ethics laws when she tried to stop construction of a house in her neighborhood. Graham contacted city staff, beginning in February 2015, complaining a partially-built home was too similar to her own.
Correspondence began just weeks after Graham was sworn into office. She says she wasn’t told during new councilor orientation that she wasn’t supposed to interact directly with staff. Graham tells KBND News, "It was not covered to the best of my knowledge. The training consisted of being given a book of documents that have been created to guide new Councilors. To the best of my knowledge – I haven’t gone back and relooked at the book – there was nothing in there that said you must proceed through the City Manager to contact staff." City Manager Keith Witcosky says Councilors are given a book, but then are verbally instructed to contact him first. "In all the orientation sessions, Council members know that I am their point of contact. That’s something that the Mayor and the city attorney, particularly, make very clear; as do I." He adds, "There is a very large volume of materials that we send with them, as well, and then we kind of walk them through that in the orientation sessions."
KBND News has obtained numerous emails Graham sent to city planners in 2015 regarding the home. Over several months, she sent pictures directly to the head of Community Development, showing her home compared to the one under construction. Graham says, "I would presume that’s the route any private citizen would take to register a complaint or send in additional information." In one email, dated February 25, 2015, Graham tells then-Community Development Director Heather Richards, "I have reached out to your staff twice now for an update but still have not received one." She goes on to say, "I believe this copy home will have a negative impact on the value of my home when I come to sell it some day."
According to Oregon ethics law, it's a conflict of interest for a public official to participate in "official action which could or would result in a financial benefit or detriment to the public official, a relative of the public official or a business with which either is associated." Witcosky says Councilors and the Mayor are instructed to go through the City Manager for various reasons, including to "avoid situations where Council members can get favors done" and to "protect staff from situations which effect the integrity of their work."
Recently, Graham asked staff to see plans for another home. Permits were later denied to the builder, although Graham says she did not talk with staff while she was there. Mayor George Endicott says anyone can look at building plans. But, he believes Councilors are “super citizens.” He tells KBND News, "We have influence that others don’t. If you walked in to look at the plans and no one knew who you were, they’d show them to you, etc., and you’d leave; no harm, no foul. If a Councilor goes in and looks, then suddenly they’re questioning why."